COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements in the Workplace: Legal or Not?

Covid 19

The Law Protects Employers’ Decisions to Require a Vaccine—For the Most Part

Michigan’s current COVID-19 vaccine timeline estimates the shot will be available to most workers by late summer. Employees from all sectors are ready to sign up, excited by the potential of leaving behind PPE and returning to their workplaces in person rather than dealing with furloughs or working from home. Among others, there are questions about how their bosses will treat those who do not want the vaccine.

Can I Be Required to Get Vaccinated for COVID-19 for Work?

In most cases, your employer can require you to receive a vaccine before returning to the office. If this seems unfair, keep in mind companies are required to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all. If a company did not require a vaccine and one of their workers spread COVID-19 to others, it could face legal action. The same could happen if a sick worker passed the disease onto a customer. From this perspective, many employers see vaccine requirements as a legal protection as much as a preventative health measure.

Rules Regarding Health Disclosures and the Workplace

Companies still must follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when making and enforcing vaccine requirements. This act protects individuals’ right to medical privacy during interviews and on the job. An employer does not have the right to information about an individual’s disabilities or medical conditions unless it is directly related to the job (and even then, they may not make inquiries about it during the interview process).

Requiring employees to receive a vaccine does not count as soliciting medical information or administering a medical test and is therefore allowed under the ADA. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has created a guide for employees and employers regarding COVID-19 in the workplace.

Understanding How ADA and EEOC Exemptions Work

Some people may be unable to receive the vaccine either because it is not safe for them or because doing so would go against their religious beliefs. If these individuals refuse a vaccine, their employer will likely be required to attempt to accommodate them. There are no legal protections for those who simply do not want the vaccine or who personally believe it does not work or may harm them, and if this is your reason for turning down the vaccine, your employer would be able to discipline or fire you for doing so.

Exemptions for Disabled Workers

If your medical provider has told you it is not safe to receive the vaccine, your employer may not put you in danger by making you get it anyway. After telling your boss why you can’t be vaccinated, they may legally ask for a note from your doctor and/or request additional medical information. At this point, because you disclosed your disability and are requesting accommodations, they are legally allowed to ask for these things.

On the employer’s end, a disability exemption may require some work. Even if you cannot be vaccinated, the ADA allows employers to consider the health and safety of others in the workplace when granting exemptions and making accommodations. In some situations, an employer may decide it is too likely an unvaccinated worker will infect others and bring harm to the workplace.

Under the ADA, your employer must consider reasonable accommodations for you—that is, adjustments that do not cause them “undue hardship.” Reasonable accommodation may mean allowing you to continue working from home, moving your desk to be at least 6 feet away from colleagues, or other actions that would reduce the risk of spread.

If your employer concludes there are no reasonable accommodations for you, it is legal for them to let you go.

Religious Exemptions

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employees may also cite “closely held” religious beliefs as a reason to not receive the vaccine. If you do so, your employer may legally ask questions to determine the religious basis and importance of your beliefs.

As with the ADA, if an employer decides to grant an exception, they are responsible for searching for reasonable accommodations. Likewise, if they cannot find a way to respect your decision to not be vaccinated that is not overly difficult or expensive, they may be justified in firing you.

When Exemptions Do Not Apply

Workers should be aware that the ADA and Title VII only apply to companies with 15 or more employees. In other words, if you work for a small company that only has 10 people on its payroll, your boss could fire you right away if you refused to go along with a vaccine requirement.

Other Exemptions Employees Should Know About

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Michigan Persons with Disabilities Act may also provide protections to employees who are not able to receive the vaccine. An employment lawyer can help you understand what your rights are under these laws.

My Boss Unfairly Fired Me Despite My Qualifying for an Exemption

If your boss is covered by the ADA and Title VII and you believe they fired you without cause, you should speak to an employment lawyer to see if you have cause for action.

For instance, if you have been working from home for the whole pandemic and your employer refuses to let you continue doing so because you cannot receive the vaccine, you may be able to argue the company did not provide reasonable accommodations. Because job requirements and individual factors are so varied, it can be hard to tell what is and is not allowed.

If you have doubts about the legality of your firing, schedule a free consultation with Grewal Law PLLC. We’re here 24/7 to answer your questions. Call us at (888) 211-5798 now.

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