What should employers do when we have a vaccine?

As the news about a coming COVID-19 vaccine continues to be favorable, employers will soon have some decisions to make. When the vaccine is available, will you require, strongly recommend, or take no position on your employees getting the vaccine?

Your business may have been significantly hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and you are ready to immediately jump to the conclusion that you should require all employees to be vaccinated before they can return to work. As a private employer you have a right to do that. However, such a position is not without risk. Legal challenges will come via a few avenues. The first is that you may be violating the employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs that prohibit the employee from getting the vaccination. This does not mean anyone can just say it is a violation of their religious beliefs, and they immediately possess a “get out of vaccination free card.” There are standards to determine if a religious belief violation is legally recognized. You should check with your legal counsel for guidance on this. The second challenge would likely be from someone who has a medical condition which puts them at risk if they were to receive the vaccine. How you acquire this information and what you do with it once you acquire it is a process that must be carefully considered before you implement a new vaccine policy. Finally, if you have a collective bargaining agreement, that also would impact your ability to require vaccinations of your workforce. Be alert to these potential risks or you and I may be spending some quality time together.

If you are a company for which many of your employees work from home, you may choose not to make vaccinations mandatory. You also may just take no position on it at all.

In the coming months, we are all going to be learning about the vaccines, their efficacy and risks. I recommend that you to pay careful attention, review CDC and FDA guidelines, and contact your legal counsel with questions before implementing any new policy regarding vaccinations. Of course, feel free to contact me at 412-392-5371 with any questions.

James W. Southworth