The United States has started providing the COVID-19 vaccine to frontline healthcare workers and then the elderly and most vulnerable people. When the vaccine becomes available to the general public in the near future, many people are wondering if their employer can require them to take it.
In general, the answer is “yes.” Employers can impose workplace-related health and safety regulations that all employees must follow as a condition of employment – as long as those requirements are not at odds with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by violating the rights of disabled employees or misuse the confidential medical records of their employees.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently stated that the COVID-19 vaccine is not a prohibited medical procedure within the language contained in the ADA since the purpose of administering the vaccine is not to seek information related to a worker’s mental or physical health. Additionally, an employer requesting proof of COVID-19 vaccination is not the same as requesting elicit information about a disability.
However, employers must be careful about asking preliminary questions that may reveal information about an employee’s mental or physical health. Requiring the vaccine itself would not violate ADA.
If an employee refuses to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, refusal is only allowed if they have a disability that prevents them from being vaccinated or holds a strongly held religious belief or practice that prohibits vaccination. Other than those exceptions, an employer can fire an employee for refusing to be vaccinated.