As clinical trials continue across the world for a COVID-19 vaccine, many employers are contemplating whether they will be able to require employees to take the vaccine when it becomes available in the United States. Like with many other questions about COVID-19, the answer is not clear. But what is clear is that employers can start planning now to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
Michelle L. Kolkmeyer of Bodman’s Workplace Law Group offered insight on whether mandating employees take a COVID-19 vaccine is possible and offered advice to employers. Kolkmeyer engaged in a one-on-one discussion with Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber.
With two leading vaccines possibly available for citizens as early as December, many employers are considering making the vaccine mandatory for employees to return to work. The big question here is whether it’s right for your business, and if so, how to implement what might be some guiding principles to implement such a program.
Guidelines Around Requiring COVID-19 Vaccine
An employer can mandate a COVID-19 vaccine which can be compared to the way employers have implementing flu vaccine programs in the past. Looking back at that vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine is going to probably track that same and use the same framework.
Michelle L. Kolkmeyer of Bodman’s Workplace Law Group encourages companies to shy away from calling it a “mandatory vaccine program” but if employers do want employees to get the vaccine, there are a few things businesses should consider first.
“The more tailored your program or reasoning for implementing a program, the less trouble you’re going to have explaining it or defending it.” said Kolkmeyer. “You can implement this program, but there are, of course, as there always are: exceptions.”
There are exceptions that employers will have to make of those employees that have medical objections and will have to come up with a potential accommodation. Suggestions like providing extra PPE or working from home as an option is something businesses need to consider while coming up with a plan.
A second exception would be a religious or faith-based exception. An employee would have to come to their employer and said their religious beliefs prevent them from obtaining a vaccine. Kolkmeyer cautions employers from challenging a legal, sincerely held religious belief.
Guiding Principles & General Considerations
Companies will have to come up with the accommodation request form before notifying employees of vaccine requirements. Consider the steps of implementation and be ready to evaluate requests for waivers or for disabilities and supply those in a uniform manner. Documentation will be key because of the constantly evolving process.
“There are likely to be laws that are implemented or regulations that are going to speak to this issue. So the more companies can show that along throughout these changes, they have documented the process and are able to show that they did adhere to general requirements the better off they will be in the future” said Kolkmeyer.
Vaccinations in general are a very sensitive topic and should be handled diligently. Employers should be cautious about employer culture and how that can impact their employees in an already high-stress environment. Companies should consider the impact on the workplace if they choose to require the COVID-19 vaccine and continue to monitor the current climate.