With the pending approval of two COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, companies are considering making vaccinations mandatory for their employees. According to the Pew Research Center there are still 39% of Americans who say they will not get a vaccine, but half of these individuals said they may change their minds in the future if more information becomes available.
According to CNBC, you need at least 70% of the population to be vaccinated or have natural antibodies to achieve the herd immunity that can contain the virus. And some companies are considering making sure all their employees get the vaccine, says Rogge Dunn, a Dallas-based attorney, to return some sort of normalcy. He says that especially in the restaurant business it is good PR to be able say that all your staff has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Under the law, an employer can force an employee to get vaccinated, and if they don’t take it, fire them,” said Dunn, according to CNBC. Many healthcare experts say that medical facilities will mandate COVID-19 vaccinations as they do with flu shots.
But legal experts say if the company is unionized, it may be more difficult to implement required shots. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who do not want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to apply for exemption. Also, those who believe that the vaccine violates their religious beliefs may be excluded.
And experts warn that emergency use authorization, such as the approval that would be given to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine candidates if the Food and Drug Administration gives them the green light, is not legally under the umbrella of the law. Therefore, any mandatory protocols will have to wait until vaccines get full FDA approval, according to CNBC.
Dunn has advised his clients to wait for a while to consider making vaccines compulsory. Other legal experts suggest offering incentives instead of repercussions to encourage workers to get immunized on their own volition. For example, a company can offer a cash bonus to those who are inoculated.
Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California, who specializes in legal and policy issues related to vaccines, tells AARP that “employment in the United States is generally ‘at will,’ which means that your employer can set working conditions.”
However, if employees have deep seated religious convictions or medical reasons why they do not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Reiss says that employers could be legally required to offer alternatives such as wearing a mask or working remotely.
“If you can achieve the same level of safety as the vaccine via mask, or remote working, you can’t fire the employee. You need to give them an accommodation,” he says.
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