Can Your Employer Mandate You Get the COVID Vaccine?

Yes. Private companies and government agencies can require their employees to get vaccinated as a condition of working there. Individuals retain the right to refuse, but they have no ironclad right to legal protection.

Due to the spiking COVID cases due to the Delta variant, many colleges, nursing homes, and hospitals are putting COVID-19 vaccine mandates into place, and people on both sides are speaking out. Many employers are asking what they can do if an employee refuses. Some employers are firing workers who refuse to get the vaccination, and some require weekly testing of unvaccinated employees.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said federal anti-discrimination laws do not prohibit employers from requiring that all employees who physically enter the workplace be vaccinated. With that said, employers must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Employers need to evaluate the risk the objection poses as a vaccination mandate should be job-related. If an employee refuses or can’t be vaccinated, an employer must decide whether to allow the employee to work remotely, take a leave of absence, or terminate them.

What Are the Options for Opting Out of the COVID Vaccine Mandate?

An employee can ask for an exemption from the vaccine for medical reasons or religious beliefs and practices. An employer must accommodate this request unless it would cause undue hardship.

Most employers are likely to give workers some options if they don’t want to take the vaccine. Some companies have imposed what’s being called a “soft mandate” — workers who don’t want to get vaccinated can work remotely or get tested weekly instead.

Encouraging Vaccinations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on August 23, 2021, and may make requiring the vaccine easier to mandate. Instead of requiring vaccines, some companies are trying to entice workers by offering cash bonuses, paid time off, and other rewards. Walmart, for example, is offering a $75 bonus for employees who provide proof they were vaccinated. Amazon gives workers an $80 bonus if they show proof of vaccination, and new hires get $100 if they’re vaccinated.

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