No COVID-19 shot, no service? A look at the legality of businesses requiring vaccine mandates

Posted at 7:07 PM, Dec 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-06 23:50:48-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — No shot. No service.

It’s a rule Australian-based airline Qantas Airways announced it will implement with all passengers traveling internationally. The airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, said the airline will require all international travelers to prove they’ve received their COVID-19 vaccines before boarding their planes.

“We think that is a necessity,” Joyce said in an interview.

Qantas is not alone. The International Air Transportation Association, a trade association that represents the world’s airlines, is developing a phone app travelers could use to prove they’ve received their COVID-19 vaccines.

41 Action News spoke with two law professors, each who specialize in Constitutional and Administrative law, to find out if private businesses can enforce COVID-19 vaccine mandates and refuse service to consumers who choose to not get the vaccine.

“The constitution generally limits what the government can do," University of Kansas School of Law professor Richard Levy said. "It does not generally limit what private persons can do."

There are statutory exceptions, according to Levy.

“It would be improper to refuse service on the basis of race or on the basis of sex or on the basis of religion, among other limitations,” he said.

Businesses have to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities to comply with the American Disabilities Act.

“You have to make accommodations unless it’s a substantial burden,” Dorit Reiss, a professor of law at University of California, Hastings College of Law, said. “That’s a pretty high bar, but it’s not insurmountable -- If you can show the costs of giving accommodations are really, really high.”

Reiss specializes in vaccine law and policy. She said a customer vaccine mandate would be similar to a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” requirement.

“I think there is pretty broad legal ability to do that, but the issue is going to be practical and maybe a little ethical,” she said. “Just because you can (require vaccines) doesn’t necessarily mean you should. And for many businesses this will be very hard to implement.”