With vaccination programs underway across the United States, we have been getting questions about whether employers can force their employees to get a vaccine before resuming work.

 

The short answer is yes, but with opportunities for legitimate exemptions.

Before the holidays, the federal agency in charge of preventing workplace discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, published guidelines stating that employers can enact mandatory vaccination policies. How was the Commission able to do this? U.S. law allows private employers to implement policies to keep their workplaces safe and make sure that their employees are not creating unsafe work environments.

Returning to the question of mandating COVID vaccines before returning to work, it’s important to understand that you have the right as an employee to request an exemption provided it is for legitimate medical or religious reasons. What does this mean? It means that if your objection to getting vaccinated is based on your true religious beliefs or a serious medical condition your employer needs to try to make accommodations for you.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, clearly states that, “denying a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices” is prohibited. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act, states that if you cannot safely receive a vaccine for medical reasons, your employer must try to accommodate you. While it will be up to you about the manner in which you approach your employer to request a vaccine exemption based on your religious beliefs or medical condition, it is important to understand what protections exist under the law when it comes to accommodations.

What will these accommodations look like? While it will be up to individual employers, it could mean that you take different shifts than you normally do, or, you may have to do more individual work if you are the only employee being granted a vaccine exemption. Whatever the case, it will be important for you and your employer to have a meaningful conversation about what accommodating you will look like and how it will change your workday. Take note that accommodating your vaccination exemption could even mean you continue working remotely while your co-workers return to the office, shop floor or kitchen.

It’s important to understand that while you have the right to request a vaccine exemption based on your true religious beliefs or a serious medical condition, your employer has the ability to deny your accommodation request if it results in “undue hardship.” This essentially means that if accommodating your vaccination exemption would put the health and safety of other employees at risk, be too costly or result in a logistical nightmare, your employer can refuse your accommodation request.

Take note that accommodating your vaccination exemption could even mean you continue working remotely while your co-workers return to the office, shop floor or kitchen.

It’s important to understand that while you have the right to request a vaccine exemption based on your true religious beliefs or a serious medical condition, your employer has the ability to deny your accommodation request if it results in “undue hardship.” This essentially means that if accommodating your vaccination exemption would put the health and safety of other employees at risk, be too costly or result in a logistical nightmare, your employer can refuse your accommodation request.

Now that we have explored legitimate exemptions let’s take a look at what does not count as a legitimate. If your objection to getting a vaccine before you return to work is based on political, economic, or social beliefs your objection is not considered to be legitimate under U.S. law. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be fired. Before termination can happen, your employer will have to make sure that there are no local, state or other federal regulations that need to be taken into account based on your unique circumstances and the type of work you do.

No matter your position on getting the COVID vaccine before you return to work, Swartz & Swartz P.C. is here to help you and answer any employment-related questions you have. We know there is a lot of anxiety about returning to work – and rightly so. If we can help alleviate your concerns in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us at 617.742.1900. At Swartz & Swartz P.C., we continue to be here for the Boston community and encourage everyone to do their part to keep each other healthy and safe during these difficult times.

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James Swartz, our Managing and Principal Attorney at Swartz & Swartz P.C., is a nationally recognized and respected trial attorney as well as consumer advocate. His practice focuses on cases involving negligence, torts, products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other claims involving catastrophic injuries.

 

 

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