New guidance says businesses can require employees to get vaccinated and ban unvaccinated employees from returning

  • New government guidelines state companies may require their workers to get vaccinated.
  • Additionally, they may offer incentives for employees who voluntarily receive vaccinations.
  • Two exceptions remain: employees with underlying health condition or conflicting religious beliefs.

The federal government updated its guidance for employers, saying companies may require their workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Additionally, they may offer incentives for employees who voluntarily receive vaccinations, such as paid time off or bonuses as long, as they are not coercive.

In April, the Biden Administration announced it would grant tax incentives to any small businesses that offer employees paid time off to get vaccinated. Companies both small and large have used incentives and flexible company policies to increase employee vaccination rates.

The new guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes protections for workers who may refuse the vaccine due to underlying medical conditions or conflicting religious beliefs, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Employers who determine that an employee who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability are a risk others are not allowed to bar them from the workplace unless there is no accommodation they can take “that would eliminate or reduce this risk so the unvaccinated employee does not pose a direct threat,” according to the guidelines. The same goes for employees who have religious objections to receiving the vaccine.

In neither case do employers have the right to automatically fire workers who cannot receive the vaccine. First they must determine whether the employee has rights under local and national discrimination laws.

However, experts say most employers will probably simply request their workers get vaccinated, rather than forcefully compel them. Although public confidence in the vaccine has increased, a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27% of respondents “probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists.” Forcing workers to take the shot or leave their jobs could backfire on employers.

There are also potential legal risks for employers. If a required vaccination causes harm to a worker, it could likely spur a workers compensation claim against their employer, employment law attorney Jay Rosenlieb told AARP.

“It’s a treacherous area for employers,” Rosenlieb said.

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