COVID-19 has brought constant change to the world for over a year now. As more Americans get vaccinated every day, it has brought much-needed hope, but also many questions. One of the most common questions to emerge over the past few months is whether employers can require COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees. Generally speaking, private employers are allowed to place such requirements on their staff members, but there are exceptions to this, and times when the law becomes quite complex.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that employers can lawfully require their employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19. Employers can also ask to see proof of vaccination as long as that proof does not contain any additional information about the employee’s health. However, certain exceptions do apply, such as when an employee’s religious beliefs or disability prevents them from taking the vaccine.
Requiring these employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Ohio Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under these laws, employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations for unvaccinated employees.
Both the Ohio Civil Rights Act and the ADA require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees that hold certain religious beliefs, or who suffer from a disability. In regards to COVID-19, there are a number of ways employers can do this.
Employers have been providing personal protection equipment (PPE) to their employees for over a year, and they should continue to do so for employees who do not receive a vaccine due to a disability or a religious belief. When possible, unvaccinated employees could also continue to work from home when other employees return to work. Unvaccinated employees who cannot work from home can be moved to a less populated work area.
While employers must provide reasonable accommodations for unvaccinated employees, they can also place certain requirements on them. For example, if there is a work function such as a holiday party, employers may require unvaccinated employees to wear a mask, maintain social distancing measures, and perhaps even eat a meal separate from vaccinated employees to reduce the risk of exposure.
Employers also have the right to ask for proof of a disability if an employee is requesting reasonable accommodations on these grounds. Doctors’ notes, the employee’s health insurance records, and prescriptions can all serve as valid proof of a disability. Employees who do not get vaccinated based on their political beliefs do not qualify as an exception and cannot expect their employer to provide reasonable accommodations.
As the vaccine rollout continues to ramp up, employers and employees alike have many questions. If you have questions about your rights in the workplace, our Columbus employment lawyers at Marshall Forman & Schlein LLC, can answer them. Our skilled attorneys know what is required of your employer by law, and we will always ensure your rights are upheld. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a consultation so we can review your case.
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