Mandating the COVID-19 vaccine? 5 things to consider

By: Terri Dougherty

Publication: Employee Relations Management Today

Date Posted: 02/05/2021

Considering mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees?

After months of COVID-19-related workplace upheaval, requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine might seem like the easiest way to get things back to normal.

It’s not as simple as it seems, however. While businesses can make the vaccine a must for workers, there are a number of “what-ifs” to be considered before taking that step.

If you are considering mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, think about the following:

What if an employee can’t get the vaccine because of a medical condition? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) comes into play here. Employers will need to talk (technically, engage in the interactive process) with the employee about options, and consider whether there is a reasonable accommodation that can be provided. Possibilities include a vaccine exemption, use of personal protective equipment, teleworking, or a leave of absence. An accommodation doesn’t need to be granted if it poses a significant difficulty or expense to the employer’s business operations.

What if an employee has a religious objection to the vaccine? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers who have a religious reason for not being vaccinated, so a reasonable accommodation also needs to be considered in this situation. In this case, it does not need to be granted if it would pose more than a “de minimis” cost to the employer.

What if our company has a union contract? Check the contract to see if a vaccine mandate is something that needs to be bargained with the union.

What if an employee has an adverse reaction to the vaccine? If a vaccine is mandated and an employee has an adverse reaction, it’s possible the employee could file a workers’ compensation claim. It might also be a recordable illness under OSHA requirements.

Can I encourage, rather than require, employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Yes. Depending on your industry and the nature of your business, this might be a better option. You may wish to offer employees free access to the vaccine and encourage them to take advantage of its protection if they’re able. This allows you to protect your workforce without taking on the additional issues that come with a mandate.

Each workplace is different, and your vaccination policy is going to depend on whether an optional vaccine or a mandate and its additional considerations are best for your workforce.