The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—which works to enforce anti-discrimination laws and more in the workplace—said in updated guidance on pandemic procedures this week that companies have the right to require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine when available.
"The ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] allows an employer to have a qualification standard that includes 'a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace,'" the EEOC said on Wednesday.
While the ADA places limits on employers being able to require a medical exam, as CBS News explained, the EEOC's updated guidance notes that vaccination doesn't qualify as a medical exam. In short, requiring a vaccine would not be an example of an ADA violation.
— U.S. EEOC (@USEEOC) December 16, 2020
The update also includes insight on whether asking or requiring an employee to prove COVID-19 vaccination could be interpreted as a "disability-related inquiry," confirming that it should not:
"Simply requesting proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not likely to elicit information about a disability and, therefore, is not a disability-related inquiry."
If an employer is unable to provide a "reasonable accommodation" to someone who refuses to comply with a vaccine policy by citing a disability or "sincerely held religious practice or belief," the employer is within the power of the law to exclude any such employee from the workplace, though the employer may not "automatically terminate" the employee.
Speaking further on the termination aspect with CBS, Sharon Masling—a workplace lawyer in D.C. and ex-chief of staff to an EEOC commissioner—detailed how employers can reasonably move forward in these unique scenarios. If accommodations can't be made and the job itself requires being present in a physical space, meaning a potential threat to the safety of others, "they could be terminated."
Amid the news of the EEOC explaining how employers have the right to mandate vaccines, the first wave of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rollout continues. As announced earlier this month, initial vaccine supplies are allocated for healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
For more on the vaccines, including why you should get one when it's made available to you, read this.
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