The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the United States. Even though we are still battling this virus, the good news is that there are already several vaccines being distributed and used throughout the United States. More vaccines will likely be approved in the coming weeks and months, thereby speeding up the process of vaccine distribution throughout the country. As the vaccine becomes more of the focus of the pandemic recovery, private and public employers have been questioning whether they can mandate their employees to take the COVID-19 vaccination and whether they should do so.
Yes…but…. Mandatory vaccination protocols can be controversial. These controversies did not start with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns over vaccines, and what are known as “anti-vacs” movements have been around for decades. Yet, mandatory vaccination policies are not unusual particularly in healthcare settings where workers regularly interact with vulnerable and high-risk populations. Covid-19 and its impact may broaden the workplaces that require certain vaccines, including Influenza, Covid-19, and its variants.
Mandated vaccines are permitted, as long as the employer understands that there are certain accommodations that must be recognized: medical and religious, as required by certain Civil Rights laws as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRC”) regulations. Understanding these accommodations is essential to lawfully administering a vaccine mandate in the workplace.
The issue of mandatory vaccination policies was addressed more than a decade ago when the H1N1 virus outbreak occurred in the United States. At the time, the EEOC acknowledged that the pandemic met the ADA’s standards regarding a “direct threat” that permits more extensive medical inquiries than are typically allowed.
However, the EEOC also suggests that employers “consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it.” This exact same guidance was issued in March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was initially becoming a public emergency. These suggestions from the government agency acknowledge the sense of invasion of personal freedoms or privacy that fuel the controversy that can exist surrounding such mandates. Regardless of whether the vaccine is mandated by an employer or “encouraged,” the policy should begin with an education component in advance of implementation.
As the Covid-19 vaccines are distributed more widely, we expect to see more issues of mandatory programs as well as legislation and we will report on them here.
If you are a public or private employer in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, you may have questions about whether or not you can mandate that your employees get the COVID-19 vaccine. We strongly encourage you to work with an experienced employment law attorney who can help you through every aspect of your COVID-19 protocols. N. Stotler Law is standing by to help guide you through this ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis. You can contact us for a consultation of your case by clicking here or calling 724-841-5565.