TAP In with Tristan : Employer Mandates on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Tristan talks about employers mandating COVID-19 vaccinations on this entry of TAP In with Tristan. Many employers are stepping in and starting to require employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office, and this has raised numerous questions around the legal rights of employers and employees, so Tristan discusses some of that here. Hopefully this information helps provide understanding for those questioning their employer’s decisions and provides enough facts for those who need to combat the misinformation their coworkers may be spreading!

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TRANSCRIPT

Tristan: What’s going on, Living Corporate? It’s Tristan, and I want to thank you for tapping back in with me as I provide some tips and advice for professionals. On this episode, I want to talk about employers mandating COVID-19 vaccinations.

Now, we’re more than a year and half into this pandemic and about seven months out from when the COVID-19 vaccines were released to the public. With approximately only 50% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, many states have launched relatively unsuccessful incentive programs in an effort to increase vaccination rates. Now, many employers are stepping in and starting to require employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office. This has raised numerous questions around the legal rights of employers and employees, so I wanted to discuss some of that here. Before I hop in, I want to make it very clear that this information is coming from someone who is a strong advocate for getting vaccinated and volunteered at a vaccine clinic to get their vaccinations early. So in no way am I trying to pretend that I’m unbiased, but I did pull this information from a Crain’s Detroit Business article, which I’m sure is not as biased as I am. So let’s dive in.

First, can employers legally mandate that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19? The short answer is yes. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has allowed employers to mandate the flu vaccine, among many others, to employees to protect the safety and well-being of the workforce from a “direct threat.”

Are there exceptions? Yes. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are exempt from mandatory immunization based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other federal laws that bar a mandate for medical or religious reasons. The EEOC was also clear that employer requirements and incentives to get a vaccine can’t be “coercive,” but it didn’t specify what coercive meant. However, the exemptions are very limited. Employers are legally allowed, via the EEOC, to force the employee to document a medical condition that prohibits a vaccine. Religious exemptions are even more narrow. An employee protesting the vaccine would have to demonstrate where the “tightly held” religious belief prohibits inoculation.

Can an employer fire employees for refusing a vaccine? Yes. An employer can terminate an unvaccinated employee who “would pose a direct threat due to a ‘significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.'”

Can my employer ask about my vaccine status? Yes. An employer can ask for proof of vaccination whether it mandates the vaccine for employees or not. Federal guidelines require employers to maintain a safe working environment, and dropping mask mandates and other safety protocols put employers in a bind, so they may ask to see your vaccination card before allowing you into the office.

Isn’t that a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)? No. HIPAA is a national standard that only applies to health care organizations and insurers. The standard governs hospitals, doctors, etc. from sharing patient medical information with outside groups without the consent of the patient. Other businesses are not governed by HIPAA.

I hope this information helps provide understanding for those questioning their employers decisions and provides enough facts for those who need to combat the misinformation their coworkers may be spreading.

This tip is brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @layfieldresume, or connect with me, Tristan Layfield, on LinkedIn.

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