As business owners plan for employees to return to the office, many are wondering if they can require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Employers have an obligation to ensure that their employees have a healthy and safe work environment. Since failing to do so could lead to an employee complaint or lawsuit against the company, it is important to get this right.
Can an employer require employees to be vaccinated?
The Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued guidance that employers may encourage or even require COVID-19 vaccinations. However, if an employer institutes a mandatory vaccine policy, they must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and other workplace laws. This means that employees may be exempt from receiving the vaccine if they have a covered disability under the ADA that prevents them from taking the vaccine. If proper medical documentation is provided, employees with underlying medical conditions, such as severe allergic reactions to vaccines, may be exempt. Employees may also be exempt from the vaccine requirement under Title VII, which covers religious and other exemptions.
Can an employee be fired for not wanting to work with unvaccinated coworkers?
Generally, when an employee refuses to fulfill the requirements of the position and/or fails to be present at work, it is grounds for termination. However, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the ADA, an employee with a recognized disability that impacts his or her ability to return to work with unvaccinated co-workers, must be granted a reasonable accommodation, unless granting such accommodation would be an undue hardship for the employer. Remote work or a leave of absence may be reasonable accommodations in certain circumstances.
If you have questions about any business reopening strategy or return to the office issue, please reach out to our Post-COVID Small Business Relaunch Team.
The content of this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion. You should consult a lawyer concerning your specific situation and any specific legal question you may have.