This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.
By John V. Berry, Esq
Can employers require employees to take the new COVID-19 vaccine?
This issue is likely to come up soon as vaccines for the COVID-19 virus start being deployed. The short answer to this question is likely yes for most employees in the long term. There are exceptions. As a side note, I will be in line to get the vaccine when those at higher risk have first been able to receive their vaccines first.
Religious, Disability and Moral Objections
Whether or not an individual is required to get a COVID-19 vaccine will depend on many factors, including the type of employment that the individual has and whether or not they have health conditions that could be complicated by the COVID-19 vaccine or perhaps run contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs.
Vaccines authorized under the emergency authority of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the first vaccines will be at the start of the vaccination process, may be more difficult to mandate. I suspect that as the vaccines receive final approval by the FDA, which is a different process, that this could change as well. I don’t know if it will make a significant difference in the next year or two given that there also won’t likely be enough vaccines for everyone that wants one for a number of months. There are also many legal issues in flux and the legality of employers requiring vaccines could be bolstered by Congress.
As an analogy, there are employers that mandate the flu vaccine. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has said that employers can legally impose a flu vaccine requirement on their workforce but that employees have the right to request medical or religious exemptions under federal anti-discrimination laws. Similar guidelines are likely to also apply for the COVID-19 vaccine.
EEOC View of Required Vaccinations
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) view of the Civil Rights Act, is that once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents her/him from taking a flu vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship.
An ethical or moral objection to taking the vaccine would not likely be enough to get beyond such a requirement. Employers with undue hardships (which can override objections) will likely be seen in some types of positions, like those that require direct contact with customers or where COVID-19 outbreaks have previously occurred. In cases where employers have required flu vaccines, some employers have let employees avoid vaccination but require those employees that refuse to take a vaccine to wear a mask at work.
Eventually, the vaccines probably will be approved under the FDA’s more lengthy rules and will no longer be considered experimental. But even then, requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for returning to employment could create the potential for many types of problems. We are fairly early in the COVID-19 vaccination process, but there are likely to be more laws protecting employers that require vaccines for employees due to the severity of the pandemic.
For those that object to COVID-19 vaccines, there are also likely numerous lawsuits that will be filed over these issues unless new laws are enacted. The best practice for an employer would likely be to strongly encourage but not force an employee to take a vaccine unless there is no other option.
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Children’s Weekday Program (CWP) is a non-profit preschool for children 16 months and older. Rooted in a play-based philosophy, we focus on developing a love of learning and exploration, cooperation, empathy, and independence.
Located in North Arlington at 2666 Military Road, CWP offers a flexible parents’ day out and preschool program with options to extend care both before and after school daily. We offer a supportive and inclusive school community for children and parents alike and welcome all families to join our school!
Our caring and experienced educators create opportunities for children to play, learn, and grow in a nurturing environment of child-centered and developmentally appropriate experiences–including enrichment programming such as science and movement.
CWP has been an integral part of the community for over 50 years and last year was recognized by Northern Virginia Magazine for the fourth time as the Best Preschool.
The Potomac Roasting Company is a local micro-roaster specializing in artisan coffee. We precision roast high-quality specialty beans sourced from small farms in Latin America that are owned and operated by women. Your coffee will be roasted the way you want it and delivered fresh.
As two former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Guatemala, we founded Potomac Roasting to pursue our passion for great coffee and purpose-driven work. In addition to ethically sourcing our beans, we also donate a portion of our profits to Laila’s Legacy Animal Rescue, a DC-based nonprofit that finds homes for homeless dogs and cats.
Our current roasts come from prime coffee-producing regions of Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. We will be adding new roasts soon. If you are local, there’s a good chance we can deliver to your door. Look for us at local farmers’ markets beginning this spring. In the meantime, check us out now for better coffee and good karma in a cup. You can use the code Community and save 10%.
Whenever we feel indecisive, it’s usually because different parts of ourselves see things differently and are motivated by different priorities and concerns. In fact, it’s usually the friction between these different “camps” that makes us feel stuck.
We can mediate