Workplaces can mandate COVID-19 vaccine, employment experts say

Posted at 3:39 PM, Nov 24, 2020

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With some promising COVID-19 vaccines in the homestretch, employment experts in the Kansas City metro said companies can require workers to receive one.

“Historically, mandatory vaccination programs are actually not new,” Stacy Bunck, office managing shareholder at of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. “They're not generally known to the public because they haven't come into play as much today, but there is recognition for certain industries, such as health care industries, where there can be a mandatory vaccination.”

Two main exceptions, however, would allow employees to be exempt from receiving the vaccine, according to Bunck – religious beliefs that prohibit a person from being vaccinated and having an underlying disability covered under the "Americans with Disabilities Act". Employees who fall into either exemption category should notify their human resources department and a reasonable accommodation must be made.

Employers, according to Bunck, would cover the cost of a vaccine and make it available “at the workforce during regular working hours.”

If an employee has adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine, Bunck said employers could be liable and possibly face workers’ compensation claims.

As clients contact her firm with questions regarding COVID-19, Bunck said that in addition to guiding them to the firm’s resources and their human resources departments, she encourages them to look for government information as well.

“For example, once a vaccination is actually approved by the [Food and Drug Administration], we expect the government agencies associated with employment law, such as the EEOC [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], to issue formal guidance as to what to do for mandatory vaccinations,” Bunck said.

For the time being, the EEOC recommends that Americans with Disabilities Act-covered employers encourage their employees to take a vaccine versus requiring them to do so.

"They take our temperatures, and we just go through the protocol," Zey Hajjaj, who is hesitant about the vaccine, said. "So I'm not sure if it will be mandatory to take a vaccine, but I'm assuming at some point yes."

Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said she foresees a few obstacles, the big one being access.

"We have 300 million people in the United States, and these the first vaccines will require two doses," Reiss said. "So the first problem will not be mandates, it will be getting enough vaccines for the people who actually want them."

For some, there's still an uneasy feeling about the first round of vaccines.

"I'll probably see what happens in the fall in the upcoming year, and then possibly take it next year," Julia Ngega, who also is hesitant about the vaccine, said, "depending on how that first year goes."