Can My Boss Make Me Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?

Can My Boss Make Me Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?

Michelle Patrick
Michelle Patrick
 | 

As COVID-19 vaccines become more readily available you may be wondering if your employer can force you to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to work.

 

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to work. Since we are dealing with a pandemic, the vaccine is necessary to fight against the pandemic and protect public safety. If we were not in a pandemic situation, your employer could not require you to get a vaccine as a condition of employment. So for example, you could not be required to get the chickenpox vaccine. 

 

Does that mean that your employer will make you get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to work? That answer is much more complicated. There are a number of things that employers have to consider. After taking those considerations into account it is very possible that your employer will strongly encourage, rather than mandate, that employees get the vaccine before returning to work. 

 

Things to consider include: 

Industry

 

Certain industries are inherently high risk for both employees and the public. For example, healthcare, retail, and hospitality. In these industries, where employees are interacting with the public throughout the day, your employer is more likely to require that you have a vaccine before returning to work. 

 

If you work in a small office with little interaction with others, then your employer may just encourage you to get the vaccine. If your employer does require the vaccine, you may have better luck convincing your small employer to change the policy to make it optional. 

 

    Exceptions 

 

A.  Americans with Disabilities Act

 

Employers must still abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The EEOC, which is the agency tasked with enforcing the ADA, has stated that requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine does not violate the ADA. 

 

However, the ADA does require that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employers who need one. You might not be able to get the vaccine due to a disability or pregnancy. In that case, your employer will need to engage in the interactive process with you and explore reasonable accommodations. 

 

You will have to submit disability paperwork, filled out by your doctor, stating why you cannot get the vaccine. You will then discuss with your employer if there are any reasonable accommodations (alternatives) that would allow you to return to work without the COVID-19 vaccine. Reasonable accommodations could include remote work, a private office, or personal protective equipment (PPE).

 

There will be situations in which an accommodation is not reasonable. For example, if the cost of the accommodation is too high then it is not reasonable. In that case, you will either have to get the vaccine or your employment will be terminated.

       

B. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

 

Title VIl of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) requires employers to provide employees with religious accommodations. If your religion prohibits you from getting the COVID-19 vaccine then you will need to state that in writing to your employer. 

 

Title VII accommodations are different from ADA accommodations because there is no third party certifying the need for an accomodation. Your employer may ask you to explain your religious objections. 

 

C. Ask for a Different Accommodation

 

Although there are no laws apart from the ADA or Title VII that require an employer to provide an accommodation, that does not mean that you cannot talk to your employer about other alternatives if you do not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Alternatives could include remote work or PPE.

 

Liability 

 

There are of course always risks, no matter how slight, with getting a vaccine. If you were to suffer a severe adverse reaction from the vaccine, that could open up your employer to a potential lawsuit. Employers, especially small employers, may decide that it is not worth the risk of being sued to mandate that its employees get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

 

This is new territory for employees and employers and it is too early to determine how many employers will mandate, rather than encourage, employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work. 

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps. 

 
Michelle Patrick

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