Can Employers Mandate Vaccines?

December 18, 2020

By: Mary E. Funk


As vaccines are being rolled out, many employers are exploring whether they can, or should, mandate their employees be vaccinated. 


On December 16, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued additional guidance about the COVID-19 vaccines. See “Section K” here.


As has been true with flu shots and other vaccines, employers are able to legally require the COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of continued employment as long as the vaccines are job-related and consistent with business necessity.  However, if an employer decides to mandate vaccines, the employer must be mindful of valid reasons why an employee may be unwilling or unable to take the vaccine, and make exceptions or accommodations. 


If an employee has a health concern or disability-based reason for not being vaccinated that is supported by documentation from a health care provider, an employer must explore whether there is a reasonable accommodation that can be made for that employee. 


Similarly, there may be sincerely held religious objections to one or more of the vaccines, which also requires a thoughtful analysis and possible accommodation. 


Accommodations may include remote work, modifications of the work space, or additional personal protective equipment.  


Some employers are addressing these issues by developing an incentive plan to educate employees and encourage vaccines, rather than mandating them.  While this may not work for all workplaces, it may be a good tool for some employers. 


Regardless of whether an employer chooses to require vaccines or make them optional, it is advisable to develop a written policy that complies with the ADA and Title VII by addressing these issues, and speak with your legal counsel about your individual workplace circumstances.  This is not a situation where a one-size fits all approach is consistent with best practices. 


The Nyemaster Labor & Employment group is available to assist with these and related pandemic workplace issues.