Many employers may be asking themselves if it is really OK to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, and the answer is yes. The EEOC states that employers are allowed to require that any employees who physically enter the workplace be vaccinated against COVID-19 as long as the employer provides reasonable accommodations for their employees when necessary.
Reasonable accommodations are necessary for those who hold sincere religious beliefs and for those with disabilities. These two groups are protected by Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, respectively.
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Employers are exempt from providing accommodations if they result in undue hardship or are more than a minimal burden to the employer. For this reason, employers should consider accommodations on a case-by-case basis to determine if the requested accommodations are reasonable.
When determining how to treat pregnant employees with respect to exemptions from vaccine mandates, the EEOC recommends treating pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees.
The CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccination for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant. When considering medical exemptions for pregnant women, employers must be sure not to discriminate against employees. Employers can consider job modifications like remote work for a pregnant employee seeking an exemption.
According to the EEOC, employers can ask employees about their vaccination status and request documentation to confirm that the employee has received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Employers must remember that proof of vaccination is confidential medical information protected under the ADA. This documentation needs to be filed securely and separately from employee’s personnel files.
If an employer is going to mandate vaccines and request documentation to enforce the mandate, they should create a system to safely collect and store all confidential documents.
While incentives to encourage employees to get vaccinated are permissible, employers need to walk the line between incentivizing, and coercion. Healthcare providers who are not affiliated with an employer can offer unlimited incentives to patients. Employers, however, must be sure that their incentives to encourage employees to get vaccinated are not so substantial that they are considered coercion.
The EEOC recommends that instead of incentives, employers encourage their employees to get vaccinated by providing education about the safety and efficacy of vaccines or by working with a healthcare provider to make the vaccines easily available and inexpensive for employees.
The rise in vaccine mandates, specifically since the implementation of the OSHA emergency standard, has led to a rise in questions regarding religious exemptions for the vaccine under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The EEOC has updated their guidelines to provide employers with more assistance in navigating religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Title VII, employers must accommodate employees’ “sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, and observances absent undue hardship.” To be eligible for a religious exemption or accommodation, employees must inform their employer that they are seeking a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
While employees must consider religious accommodation requests, they are not required to accommodate an employee’s social or political views or personal preferences.
If an employee wishes to deny a request for religious accommodations for an employee requesting exemption, the employer must show that the requested accommodations would result in undue hardship.