Can Your Employer Require You to be Vaccinated for COVID-19?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance stating that federal discrimination laws do not prohibit employers from requiring employees entering the workplace to get vaccinated for COVID-19. However, the EEOC stated that some exceptions may apply under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Those laws mandate employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who fit into one of these exceptions, unless providing an accommodation would result in an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business:
- They have a disability
- They have a sincerely held religious belief
The New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL) has also issued guidance about the extent to which employers can mandate employees get vaccinated. The NDJOL lists several forms of reasonable accommodations that may be required, such as allowing an employee to telecommute or to work in an environment that reduces or eliminates the risk of harm to other employees or to the public. The guidance goes a step further, adding a specific exemption for employees advised by a doctor not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding.
The EEOC guidelines also provide examples of reasonable accommodations, which include masking, working at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, working modified shifts and getting periodic tests for COVID-19.
If the employer cannot implement a reasonable accommodation that will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to employees and the public, the employer can prohibit those employees not vaccinated from entering the physical workplace. The NDJOL states employers can do so even if the condition is due to disability, pregnancy or breastfeeding or a sincerely held religious belief without violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
Although the EEOC and NJDOL are authoritative sources of guidance on this issue, there are other legal restrictions to consider. For example, unionized workers may have protections or recourse through their local union. Employers will need to abide by union rules and any emerging local or federal laws.
While in most cases, an employer can require that an employee receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work, the law continues to evolve quickly. Employers should work with legal counsel before implementing a mandatory workplace vaccination policy. In addition, employees adversely affected by compulsory workplace vaccination policies should immediately seek qualified legal counsel.
For more than 25 years, Kevin T. Kutyla, Esq. has provided exemplary legal representation in employment law matters for clients in Sussex and Morris counties and throughout New Jersey. The office is conveniently located in Succasunna at 15 Commerce Boulevard, just off Route 10. Call 862-354-8931 or contact the firm online to schedule an appointment.