Mandatory Employee Vaccination? EEOC Updates Workplace Guidance

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On May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued updated guidance for employers considering a mandatory employee vaccination requirement. The short answer? Your company probably can insist that most employees get vaccinated. But there may be limits and related compliance risks.

You Can Require On-Site Employees to Get the Shot

The new EEOC guidelines advise employers that they can, if they wish, require that their on-site workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to work.

If you decide to require your employees to get the vaccine, you will still need to keep a few things in mind.

First, the EEOC says that employers can only mandate vaccines for employees physically present at a worksite. If you still have staff working from home, and they don’t need to set foot in the office or other work location any time soon, then you shouldn’t require those workers to get the vaccine.

Second, the EEOC stresses that any vaccine mandate must comply with the ADA and Title VII. If you have an employee who wants to return to work but cannot receive the vaccine for health reasons or based on a sincerely held religious belief, you must consider reasonable accommodations for that person. For example, you may require that the unvaccinated employee wear a face mask or work physically distanced from other employees or customers. As is always the case, a worker requesting an accommodation doesn’t have to receive the exact one they want. The employer need only make an effective accommodation under the circumstances, if there is one that doesn’t create an undue hardship.

Be Cautious In Obtaining Medical Information

The EEOC says that asking for proof of vaccination is not a restricted disability-related inquiry under the ADA. But, remember, you must keep employee health information, including information on whether an employee has received the vaccination, confidential.

And you can’t require, or even incentivize, an employee to ensure that members of their family be vaccinated. By seeking proof of family member vaccination, you would be inquiring into an employee’s family health information. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits such inquiries for covered employers. The law allows some exceptions to this if your business administers vaccines to the general public and an employee’s family member chooses to get one from you. But for most companies, collecting any health information on the family members of its employees would violate GINA.

Incentives Are Fine (As Long As They Aren’t Coercive)

As far as the EEOC is concerned, you can offer all sorts of incentives to your employees to get the vaccine. Examples may include cash bonuses, gift cards, or various other prizes. (Note: There may be tax implications!) The EEOC also says that incentives can include penalties, although fewer companies are using this option.

Stay Tuned

Because everything having to do with COVID-19 has moved so quickly, expect further developments on mandatory employee vaccination issues. Remember that the EEOC only oversees specific federal discrimination laws. Other sources of law may have different implications. Individual states may interpret/apply existing laws differently or pass new restrictions surrounding this subject. But for now, the EEOC continues to endorse the view that as long as you follow the standard ADA, Title VII, and GINA rules, your company can do what it finds appropriate for the health of your workers and the safety of your business regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Just make sure you work with experienced employment counsel in implementing any vaccination requirements!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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