Yes, it's legal for private businesses to require proof of vaccination. Here's why

KC bar weighs in on decision
Hamburger Mary's proof of vaccination
Posted at 6:18 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 05:54:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yes, it's legal for businesses to require proof of vaccination — because they're private businesses. And turns out the standards are high to be exempt from showing proof.

Starting Tuesday, customers have to show ID and a vaccine card to get into Hamburger Mary's and Woody's.

"We're completely full at this point with reservations, so who knows, maybe the viral publicity caused some people to make reservations for tonight, so I think it'll be okay," said owner Jeff Edmondson.

Edmondson said although they're leading the way, he expects more bars, restaurants and stores to do the same.

"I was surprised we were the first ones to actually start this, especially given when I saw the mayor's mandate, I thought, well it's pretty clear this is the option," Edmondson said. "No one wants to go back to 50% capacity, so we're going to require vaccinations for everybody or they can't come in."

Is this legal? Yes, it is.

Claudia Tran, an attorney in employment law, said private businesses have the right to set the rules and require proof of vaccination.

If a patron doesn't want to comply, they need to prove it — either through a strongly-held religious belief or an actual medical issue involving vaccines.

"With other people who may have seen on Facebook or learned through their own research that they don't like vaccinations, that wouldn't necessarily be considered a strongly-held religious belief unless it's something that's been longstanding in their life or something they've relied on time and time again, not just this time," Tran said.

Suing a business for requiring vaccination proof might take longer than some people would think, Tran said.

"There's also administrative remedies you have to go through before you start suing. It's actually a pretty long process, it may last longer [than] whatever mandate you're going against," Tran said.

Nationwide companies, like Walmart or Target, have an added step before enacting a vaccine requirement policy.

"Walmart would have to be mindful of individual states where that might not be possible, but here in Missouri and Kansas, all private employers are allowed to require vaccination," Tran said.

County and city health departments, municipalities and city governments that receive public funds in Missouri can't require vaccination proof, which was included in a law Gov. Mike Parson signed.

Citing HIPAA is also not a way to get around it. Tran said HIPAA is a tailored law that applies to healthcare providers and does not apply to everyday life, like getting into a bar.

Some people in the service industry wonder if it could put employees in a bad position, who have already had to be the "mask police," to now turn away people for not showing vaccine proof.

Edmondson said he won't tolerate anyone giving his employees a hard time, though he doesn't believe their customer base would think to do that.

"We're not going to go back and forth. If they don't show their vaccine card, that's fine, they don't have to. They have every right not to, but there's the door also," Edmondson said. "We're just going to say, sorry, we can't serve you inside. If they want to have a burger, they can go out to their car. They can log on to our website and order a burger and we'd be happy to take it to their car and deliver it to them."