Many employers are starting to seriously think about what sort of vaccination program, if any, they should have. Perhaps the most fundamental question is, can an employer mandate that all of its employees get vaccinated? The answer likely is yes, but there are several issues and exceptions to be considered.
The answer might change depending on guidance that is expected to be issued by federal and state government agencies. In particular, it is anticipated that the new federal administration will take a more active role in overseeing the national response to the pandemic than the prior administration.
In addition, even if an employer can mandate that employees get vaccinated, some employees might need to be exempted from that requirement due to the employer’s obligation to reasonably accommodate the disabilities and/or religious beliefs of its employees.
Moreover, employers that have the flexibility to allow most or all of their workforce to work from home might opt to take a wait-and-see approach before committing to a mandatory vaccination plan.
Note that some states have eliminated certain exemptions from mandatory vaccinations in recent years due to measles outbreaks. If an employee seeks an exemption based on personal or religious reasons, a nonprofit should reach out to its local and state departments of health for guidance on the current status of state exemptions with respect to the vaccination in question. If a state does not have a religious exemption, employers still need to evaluate whether an employee is entitled to a religious accommodation under federal law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to employers with fifteen or more employees.
Several of our partner law firms have written articles that delve into the issues nonprofits need to consider:
- Ballard Spahr’s EEOC Issues Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccine
- Fisher Phillips’ Top 7 Things You Need to Know As EEOC Says Employers May Mandate COVID-19 Vaccines
- Littler’s 28-page report, The Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine – Planning for the Employer Response
- Littler’s Giving It Our Best Shot – Statewide Vaccination Plans (summarizes the plans in each state)
- Nixon Peabody’s Mandatory Vaccination Programs: May Employers Stick It to Their Employees?
- Seyfarth Shaw’s Top Ten Considerations for Employers When it Comes to Potential COVID-19 Vaccine Programs
Here are links to several websites regarding vaccinations. Nonprofits should check these frequently, because developments with respect to COVID-19 and vaccinations are changing rapidly.
- CT Department of Public Health COVID-19 Vaccine Home Page
- CT Department of Public Health Immunization Program Home Page
- Directory of Local Health Departments in Connecticut
- NJ Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccination Home Page
- NJ Department of Health Immunization Requirements Home Page
- NJ Department of Health Vaccine Preventable Disease Program Home Page
- NJ COVID-19 Information Hub – Vaccine
- Directory of Local Boards of Health in New Jersey
- NY Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Home Page
- NY Department of Health Vaccines and Immunization Home Page
- Directory of Local Health Departments in New York
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): COVID-10 Vaccination Home Page, State Vaccination Requirements, and State Vaccination Laws
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccines Home Page
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to issue specific guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations. It is anticipated that OSHA will do so after President Biden is inaugurated. Two OSHA web pages to keep an eye on are: Coronavirus FAQs and Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Home Page.
- Immunization Action Coalition: Vaccination and COVID-19, COVID-19: Ask the Experts, and State Laws and Mandates by Vaccine (includes a list of states with exemptions from immunization/vaccination requirements based on medical, personal, and religious reasons)
- National Association of County and City Health Officials: National Directory of Local Health Departments
If you have questions, please contact your local Pro Bono Partnership office.