Employment Discrimination Blog

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Can Your Employer Make the COVID-19 Vaccine Mandatory?

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., all non-essential businesses were forced to close in-person offices in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. As time has gone by many businesses have chosen to continue working remotely, while others have cautiously returned to office life. But with the approval of the COVID-19 vaccines, going back to working around others has become safer (for those who have been fully vaccinated). As a result, many employers want their employees to get vaccinated, but can they require it?

You may be surprised to know that the answer to this question is actually yes. In Georgia, which is an employment “at-will” state, employers are permitted to require that their employees be vaccinated. Therefore, those who wish to continue working with their employer must be vaccinated or can be fired without any legal protections.

What Is Employment “At-Will?”

Employment at-will is a type of employment that allows for either the employee to quit or the employer to terminate the employee’s employment at any time for any reason – or no reason whatsoever. As such, under at-will employment, the employer has the right to set its own standards, so long as they abide by federal law. Because of this, employers can mandate a vaccine.

How Does this not Violate the ADA?

You may be wondering how mandating employees to get vaccinated doesn’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since the ADA prohibits employers from conducting specific types of medical examinations. After all, the purpose of the ADA is to protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against for their impairment. But while the ADA prevents employers from conducting medical examinations, it does not prevent them from requiring the vaccine, as receiving the vaccine does not require a medical examination. Therefore, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it does not violate the ADA to require employees to show proof of vaccination.

Are there Exceptions?

There are exceptions to employers being able to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees who have a medical reason for not receiving the vaccine will probably qualify under the ADA to be exempt. Additionally, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, those who have a religious belief that does not allow them to receive vaccines may also be exempt.

Before allowing for an exemption, an employer is allowed to determine if there is another reasonable accommodation that can allow the employee to keep his or her job without requiring the vaccine. This may include things such as:

Working remotely Working separately from other employees Using proper personal protective equipment (PPE)

If the employer has a means of accommodating the employee rather than firing them, they are obligated to use it – unless it would be unduly burdensome.

Other Considerations

Employers that require their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must consider paying them for the time it takes to receive the vaccine (and recover from it). This is because under federal law employees are entitled to compensable work time. This means that if the employer requires the vaccine but does not pay its employee for the time it takes them to get the vaccine, the employer may face significant consequences.

The GA Employment Law Attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC Can Help

When you have been wrongfully terminated from your workplace, you may not even know how to proceed. Fortunately, the attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC understand the importance of such cases and are here to help. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

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