A recent Gallup poll showed that just over one-third of Americans would refuse a free COVID-19 vaccination. With all the news and excitement surrounding the recent FDA-approved vaccines for COVID-19, employees may be wondering if their employer can require them to get the vaccine. Employers have an obligation to keep their workplaces safe and their employees healthy, so they can require certain inoculations as a condition of employment.
What Right Does My Employer Have to Force Vaccination?
There is currently no federal law or regulation that forces employees to be vaccinated. There is, however, guidance and precedence that allows an employer to require vaccinations. During the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made their positions on inoculation clear; while they did not require employees to be vaccinated, they did grant employers the right to mandate inoculations as needed. They also required employers to sufficiently inform employees of the benefits of vaccinations.
In March 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance stating that employees with 15 or more employees should encourage their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that mandating vaccinations was legally allowable.
Are Certain Employees Exempt from Employer-Mandated Vaccines?
The EEOC noted some exceptions to mandated vaccines under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These exceptions allow people with certain disabilities or religious beliefs to refuse vaccination. Even so, this guidance also indicates that employers who cannot reasonably accommodate ADA or Title VII employees without compromising workplace safety have the right to fire them if they refuse the vaccination.
A reasonable accommodation could include working from home or in an office away from other employees. This accommodation cannot cause an undue hardship for the employer. It is also important to note that there must be a sincerely held religious belief against vaccination for religious exceptions, not just an ethical or personal objection. According to the EEOC, a vaccination administered by an employer for protection against contracting a certain illness is not a medical examination under ADA guidelines.
How Do State Laws Apply to Employer-Mandated Vaccines?
The EEOC states that an employer-mandated vaccination program must be consistent with state law. In New Jersey, an employee required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 could have a civil claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). This law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on race, religious creed, color, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, nationality, ancestry, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, sex, or liability for military service.
Can Employees Refuse to Work with Others Who Have Not Been Vaccinated?
OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards, which includes COVID-19. A concerned employee has the right to contact OSHA without fear of retaliation. However, it is important to note that OSHA has announced that it will leave it to employers to investigate some complaints.
South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Help Clients with Various Employment Concerns
Employees with certain disabilities or religious beliefs may not have to comply with employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. Our experienced South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC advocate for victims of workplace discrimination. Call us today for a free consultation at 856-235-7075 or contact us online. From our offices in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we serve employees throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.