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Fact or Fiction: Can employers require COVID vaccine?

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The CDC reports all three COVID 19 vaccines available in the U.S. are safe and effective, but some people are choosing to hold off on the shot.

So what if an employer requires its workers to get the COVID vaccine?

“They are allowed to ask if you’ve been vaccinated, but it stops there,” Employment and Labor attorney Marybeth Mullaney said. “They aren’t allowed to be intrusive into your medical records. But they are allowed to inquire if in fact you’ve been vaccinated,”

Mullaney said in many cases, an employer is allowed to fire an employee for refusing to get the shot.

“Given that this is a public health crisis, the courts are looking at this differently because the employer also has an obligation to protect the other employees and provide a safe working environment to protect all their employees,” Mullaney said.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released new guidance last Friday.

Mullaney said employers have these rights as long as it doesn’t discriminate against the worker under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

An employee is protected if they have disability or medical condition, for example, that prevents them from being able to get the vaccine.

Religious reasons are considered, too. “Your employer may not be able to require you to get a vaccination if it violates your religious beliefs. But it must be a sincerely held belief,” Mullaney said.

The EEOC said your employer can ask you to show proof you’ve gotten the vaccine, but must keep that information confidential.

Mullaney said she could imagine businesses like airlines requiring proof of vaccination. “I think as long as they’re making reasonable inquiries and taking reasonable steps, the courts are going to allow it,” she said.

Mullaney advises employees who can’t be vaccinated to document that they explained the situation to their employer.

She suggested companies try to work with employees who won’t get the vaccine before firing them.

There are other EEOC protections for workers. An employer can’t stop you from working altogether during the pandemic just because you are older, pregnant, or have a disability, the agency said. Your employer can make you stay home if you have COVID-19 and are infectious.

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