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Can My Employer Require Me to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

As with many legal answers: Maybe. And any answer will depend significantly on your particular situation.

What if I am generally opposed to vaccines or just don’t want to get vaccinated?

Your employer is permitted to have certain safety policies that include, according to the EEOC, “a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.” Also, OSHA requires that an employer maintain “a workplace free from serious recognized hazards.” Due to the significant health threats from COVID-19 and an employer’s requirement to provide a safe working environment, it is likely your employer could require you to get the vaccine or find a job elsewhere.

What if I have a disability that impacts my ability to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

You should notify your employer of your disability, if they do not already know about it, and why it prevents you from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Your employer may not automatically terminate your employment for failing to get the COVID-19 vaccine and must first talk to you about your situation. Per the EEOC, before your employer can exclude you from the workplace or terminate your employment, they must show that as an unvaccinated employee you would “pose a direct threat due to a ‘significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual” and that there is no reasonable accommodation that could mitigate the risk. Additionally, employers, according to the EEOC, are required to engage in a “flexible, interactive process to identify workplace accommodation options that do not constitute an undue hardship.” An accommodation could be continuing to work from home or wearing personal protective equipment. However, depending on your particular job situation your employer may not be able to provide an accommodation.

What if I have religious beliefs that prohibit me from getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for the religious belief, practice or observance of employees unless the accommodation poses an undue hardship. If you cannot receive the vaccine because of your religious beliefs you should contact your employer to see if accommodation is possible. Although, the availability of accommodation will depend on your workplace, job duties, and particular risk associated with your industry. The EEOC has stated that there may be situations where an accommodation is not possible. If an accommodation is not possible then your employer may exclude you from the workplace.

It is important to note that if you ask for an accommodation based either on Title VII or the ADA, it is unlawful for your employer to retaliate against you. If you feel that you have been retaliated against because you asked for a COVID-19 vaccine accommodation or your employer is refusing to engage in the interactive process, you should contact an attorney right away.

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