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What If Employees Refuse the Vaccine?

In healthcare, we want to assume that we are collectively working to advance medicine and whatever the latest developments are, well we want “in”. What if that development is the COVID-19 vaccine and as it turns out, someone on your team isn’t interested? According to a survey done by the Pew Research Center, not all Americans felt that they would get the vaccine. In fact, only 60% of them were sure at the time when they were asked, although it is likely that with time, that number will go up.

What makes people hesitate? There is more fear around being the “first to go” in many circumstances, and vaccinations are no exception, regardless of the protection they promise. So, it can be expected that we will see the comfort level increase with each day.

Where does this leave employers when it comes to insisting that their team members get the vaccine, and what rights do they have to enforce it? According to Rogge Dunn, a labor and employment attorney in Dallas, who has clients in the food & beverage manufacturing industry, “a couple of my corporate clients are leaning toward making the COVID vaccine mandatory”. They believe this will give them an advantage in their struggling industry to identify their business as safe during a time of uncertainty. He also states that this is completely allowable for an employer to force an employee to get vaccinated in order to keep their job. It would fall under a health and safety work rule, and those are required. This requirement would be in place the same way that the flu vaccine is necessary (and required) at many – if not all – healthcare businesses.

As always, there are exceptions to the rule.

Any type of rule like this will have exceptions to it. That includes having to bargain with unionized work forces to negotiate this as a mandate or working in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect any employee who does not want to be vaccinated due to medical reasons. There also lies the exception of violating “sincerely held” religious beliefs with employees who want to refuse for this reason.

Follow the Rules

This time, we’re talking to you – the employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidelines on December 16th that will answer these vaccination requirement questions. As expected, they must fall within anti-discrimination laws, which include ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, as well as a few other guidelines that you should consult should the need arise. Additionally, it will be necessary to evaluate the direct threat of that employee’s refusal of getting the vaccine. As with any employee disagreement, it would be wise to consult your legal team to ensure that you are not in violation of any laws or regulations that are now in place – many of which may be new or unfamiliar to you.