Yes. Federal EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19 – as long as they make accommodations for employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs.
What Does the EEOC Say About Vaccines?
The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws, but it does not interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. Sometimes, following CDC guidelines and adhering to federal EEO laws simultaneously can be challenging, which is why the EEOC has provided the, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” document.
The resource answers frequently asked questions about what employers can and cannot do under EEO laws to keep their workplaces safe and protect their employees from COVID-19.
When it comes to vaccines, the EEO has an entire section of guidance, including information about mandatory employer vaccination programs and reasonable accommodations.
Crucially, employers can require the COVID-19 vaccine for a return to the physical workplace, educate employees about the vaccine, provided vaccination clinics, and incentivize voluntary COVID-19 vaccinations.
Nevertheless, employers cannot ask about an employee’s vaccination status. Instead, employers should request documentation or other confirmation that the employee received a COVID-19 vaccination in the community (if the employer did not administer the vaccine itself).
Employers are also prohibited from asking about employees’ family members – unless the employer is asking whether an employee has been exposed to anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Employers offering vaccinations can offer vaccines to employees’ family members but should only gather information relevant to the vaccination and should not offer the employee an incentive.
For additional information on COVID-19 vaccinations from the EEOC, please see the updated technical assistance document.
What If I Need an Accommodation?
If you choose not to get vaccinated for a protected reason (disability or religion), let your employer know you need an exemption or work adjustment. Your employer should prepare a reasonable accommodation for you, such as asking you to wear a mask, get tested regularly, and/or maintain social distance or allowing you to work from home.
As part of its vaccine policy, your employer should have special plans for reasonable accommodations.
What If My Employer Violates My Rights?
At Donati Law, PLLC, we know all too well that employers don’t always follow the rules. If you are wrongfully terminated for refusing vaccination for a protected reason, you may need to speak to an attorney.
You may also be entitled to damages if your employer violated your privacy or mishandled your personal information.
We have over 35 years of experience handling claims related to EEO laws, and although there are many new components to consider, we are confident in our ability to improve your situation.
Don’t stand for discrimination. Instead, call us at (901) 209-5500 to discuss your case.