In a recent and controversial announcement, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that some employers might be within their legal limits by making COVID-19 vaccination a job requirement. The decision was up in the air because the Americans With Disabilities Act limits most employers to make medical exams and blood tests mandatory for continued employment.
Mandatory Vaccination Does Not Pry, Says EEOC
Officials from the EEOC said that a mandatory coronavirus vaccination is much different from mandatory medical tests, though. Tests are largely prohibited because the results would give the employer personal and sensitive information about the employee, such as whether or not they had a sexually transmitted disease or genetic predispositions to certain health conditions. On the other hand, a COVID-19 vaccination requirement would give the employer no new or sensitive information, other than knowing that the employee had been vaccinated against the deadly virus.
Furthermore, the EEOC explained that requiring employees to show proof of vaccination is not an infringement on a disabled person’s rights. The logic being that an employee is not disabled just for not having the vaccine.
Employers Must Be Careful During Prescreening
Employers could land in legal hot water if they do not prescreen applicants and employees correctly. Any questions about a mandatory coronavirus vaccination must be clearly related to the job in question, rather than the employer’s personal preferences or the applicant’s personal history. If the reason for requiring or asking about the COVID-19 vaccination isn’t reasonably related to the job, then there could be grounds for an employment law violation. For example, it would be questionable if a prospective employer inquired about the vaccine for people a remote office worker position that allowed the employee to complete all tasks from home.
Possible Exceptions to the Vaccine Rule
COVID-19 vaccination requirements will have exceptions, of course. No employment rule is without them.
The EEOC noted that workers who are not medically fit enough to receive the vaccine could be excused from the requirement, such as those who have been told by their doctors that getting vaccinated could put them in serious jeopardy due to preexisting immune system deficiencies. People who are opposed to vaccination due to religious reasons might also be able to avoid mandatory vaccination, although, there are few religions with doctrines that directly denounce vaccination.
Insisting on being exempt from a mandatory vaccination does not override an employer’s right to want a safe workplace, though. The middle ground would be that employers must make reasonable attempts to accommodate an unvaccinated employee, such as moving them to a work-from-home position or requiring them to wear a medically approved face mask at all times when in the workplace or near others. With numerous studies showing that face mask use does not decrease airflow or blood-oxygen levels at all, it would be theoretically easier for an employee to enforce a face mask rule when an employee cannot or will not get vaccinated.
How the Vaccine Could Affect Private & Public Employees
There are two distinct sectors in U.S. workplaces that will be affected by vaccination rules:
- Private: Most people work in the private sector, meaning they are employed by a company that is not tied or funded by the government. Private-sector employees are employed at-will, which means they can quit at any time they want for any reason. However, at-will employers can fire them at any time for any legal reason. With the EEOC saying that vaccination requirements would be lawful, it stands to say that an employer would be safe to terminate someone who refused to get vaccinated in most circumstances.
- Public: People who work in the public sector are employed in some way by the government, like a police officer, post office worker, etc. Terminating employees in the public sector for refusing to get vaccinated could be more difficult due to the 14th Amendment, which gives public sector workers the “right to due process” when disciplined, including up to termination.
Why is Vaccination So Pressing?
At the time of this writing, more than 24,000,000 Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 402,000 have died from it. As long as large outbreaks continue and the rates of deaths and lifelong disabilities caused by the virus remain high, reopening the economy will be extremely risky, especially for elders and the immunocompromised.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that many of the worst outbreaks have begun or worsened in workplaces, where people are required to be within close proximity with one another for many hours a day. If vaccinations were mandatory at most workplaces, then it follows that the infection rate would start to decline. For business owners and bureaucrats, a drop in the virus count would also mean a massive boost to the economy, both domestically and globally. Even though mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are controversial, the potential benefits that widespread vaccinations can bring are not.
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