Federal laws are in place to protect employees against employment discrimination, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception. Whether or not a person should be forced to get vaccinated against COVID has become a hot topic in the past year, to say the least. Everyone has strong opinions about whether or not they should get vaccinated. So should (or can) an employer require you to get vaccinated?
The coronavirus pandemic is continuing in the United States after two years, which means laws and requirements are constantly changing. Businesses are reviewing and revising their COVID-19 vaccination policies on a continual basis, but there is still a lot of confusion.
What can employers do if workers refuse to get the vaccine? Many are placing workers on unpaid leave and even firing them. Others are requiring weekly testing and other safety precautions for employees who refuse to get vaccinated.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that under federal anti-discrimination laws, employers are not prohibited from requiring all employees who physically enter the workplace to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, employers that require vaccinations must consider reasonable accommodations when employees refuse to get vaccinated for medical reasons, pregnancy-related reasons, or religious beliefs.
State and local rules vary, but employees are often given various options to comply with their company’s COVID-19 policies, such as showing proof of vaccination, submitting to weekly testing, wearing masks, and social distancing (6 feet apart) when around other workers and visitors.
However, keep in mind that some companies consider weekly testing as an undue hardship due to the financial and administrative burden involved and may opt to fire employees who refuse to get vaccinated unless they have a medical or religious objection with reasonable accommodation.
While an employee may challenge these requirements, employers tend to have the upper hand in these decisions. Judges have generally sided with the employer in lawsuits involving a company’s vaccination requirements. When there are conflicting state and federal laws involved, the federal laws will generally take precedence.
A vaccination mandate should be job-related and be required due to a business need. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer’s workplace policy may state that an employee shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of their co-workers.
Therefore, if an employee refuses to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, an employer needs to evaluate the risk involved, especially if an employer is mandating that all employees get the vaccine.
If a vaccination requirement shows the disabled person is not required to get the vaccine, then the employer must show that the unvaccinated employee would not pose a threat to others in the workplace. A direct threat refers to substantial harm that cannot be reduced by reasonable accommodation.
There are four factors that employers should assess to determine whether a direct threat exists:
If an employee who cannot be vaccinated poses a direct threat, then the employer must consider reasonable accommodation, like allowing the employee to work remotely or take a leave of absence.
In any case, employers and employees should work together to determine whether a reasonable accommodation can be made. The following should be considered:
The EEOC has created a religious accommodation request form for employees. On the form, employees must identify their religious belief that shows that they do not have to meet their company’s COVID vaccine requirement.
But what can be considered a religious accommodation? It’s hard to say because many churches do believe that their congregation should get the vaccine for moral and ethical reasons. After all, we are supposed to love others, so by getting the vaccine, we would be doing our part in helping others.
One of the main issues with those who are religious is the belief that COVID vaccines contain aborted cells of fetuses. To be clear, the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells, which means pro-life Christians should consider taking these vaccines.
But many Christian leaders have also said that if those vaccines are not available, Christians should take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even though it may or may not contain fetal stem cells (some sources say they do, others say they don’t). That’s because COVID has proven deadly and your life, as well as the life of your loved ones and others around you, is at risk.
But there are people who are using the excuse that they should get a religious exemption because it is a matter of their personal faith and not necessarily formal doctrine. Again, this reasoning is not black and white and therefore difficult to sort out.
Overall, very few religions ban getting the shot. However, there are Christian faiths that do oppose COVID vaccines and all other types of vaccinations on theological grounds. They include the Church of the First Born, Faith Assembly, Dutch Reformed Church, and Endtime Ministries.
Church leaders encourage church members to recognize the seriousness of public health concerns. However, they do not impose a decision and recognize that they are free to make their own choices on whether or not to vaccinate.
COVID and the vaccine have led to a lot of discussion and disagreement in workplaces. Should employees be forced to come to work if they have the virus? Should they be required to get the vaccine, even if they work from home or not around other employees or the public? The virus is still relatively new and so the laws are constantly changing in regard to COVID vaccinations. Even individual states are passing bills to protect workers. Where do you stand?
The Chicago COVID vaccine discrimination lawyers from North Suburban Legal Service, LLC can help you learn your legal rights during these ever-changing times. We can assist you in understanding the laws that apply to you and your workplace. To learn more, call our office at (312) 313-4038 and schedule a consultation today.