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Can employers require vaccines for work?

| Feb 12, 2021 | Employment Law |

As an employer, you want to keep your employees and their workplace as safe as possible. After all, when employees are safe and healthy, they can do their jobs better.

However, when you are making rules for your workplace, you need to consider both your employees’ work and the potential impact for employees who are exempt from getting vaccinations.

Here is what you should know about requiring your employees to have specific vaccinations in the workplace.

Know the morale of your employees

As an employer, you know that some employees embrace new rules better than others. Some employees may not need a requirement from you to decide to receive certain vaccinations. However, other employees may be wary of vaccinations or have other reasons they do not want to receive a specific (or any) vaccine.

When you decide how to proceed with your employees, consider those who may have difficulty embracing change. While you cannot put others at risk because of some who will refuse, you should know what kind of fight you may have on your hands if you move forward with a vaccine requirement.

Understand the exceptions

Employers can set requirements that an individual not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace and can legally require employees to get vaccines and fire employers if they refuse. However, there is an exception for nearly every rule, and requiring employee vaccinations is a time when there are exceptions. Some of your employees might be exempt from getting a vaccine for reasons, including:

  • Disability
  • Religious beliefs
  • Other medical reasons

If an employee claims an exemption or exception, based on one of the above reasons, the burden shifts to the employer to show that an unvaccinated employee poses a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individuals or others in the workplace. Employers are also required to provide “reasonable accommodation” to employees who claim an exemption. If an accommodation is not possible or places an undue hardship on the employer, the employer can exclude the employee from the workplace.

However, “exclusion” does not equal automatic termination, you should be sure to review all federal, state and local employment laws or consult an attorney before terminating an employee who claims and exception to ensure you are not in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

Bottom line. You have an obligation to protect the health and safety of all of your employees and requiring vaccines can be one of the methods for achieving this goal. Best practices dictate that before deciding on a vaccination mandate for your employees, consider whether they will have exemptions and what obligations you may have to accommodate exempt employees.