COVID Vaccines – Can You Require, and What if Employees Refuse?

by Mike O'Neill

With the roll-out of vaccines across the country, many employers encourage employees to schedule their appointment to receive the vaccine as soon as their vaccine window becomes open. Some employers even require the employees to have the vaccine to continue having a job. However, a number of states are contemplating legislation that would prohibit businesses from making the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory. So employers will have to monitor the rules in each applicable location. 

While most employees will be glad to have the vaccine, many individuals may opt not to get the vaccine. Their reasons may vary, but choosing not to receive the vaccine is a problem for companies that depend on employees being vaccinated to return to pre-COVID-19 operation levels. 

Employees' safety and the clients they serve is a huge concern for companies, so what can employers do to encourage employees to inoculate themselves against COVID-19? Are there steps employers can take if an employee doesn't take a vaccine?

We have gathered vital information to know about what you can and cannot do if an employee decides to refuse to have the vaccine. Keep reading to see what we have found.

Can An Employer Require Employees to Vaccinate?

COVID-19 has devastated many businesses. Restaurants, theaters, and even manufacturing companies have had a loss of business. Some of these places have shuttered their doors indefinitely to combat the loss of business. 

The highly-contagious virus spread on air droplets caused everyone to rethink how much exposure to other people outside of their household they wanted to have. Staff members might have been unknowingly exposed to the virus, which could spread to every client they meet. 

Vaccinations are making it possible for people to return to their spending habits pre-COVID-19. Requiring employees to be inoculated against this virus would give companies a leg-up over their competitors by boasting that their entire staff has been vaccinated for COVID-19. 

However, if a company requires the employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, there is a dilemma. While the law does say people can refuse the vaccine, the law also states there can be consequences if an individual refuses the vaccination. 

No formal hearing in a court has been heard about the vaccine being a mandatory condition of employment. What consequences there might be is left up to employers with little guidance from the legal system. 

If a company chooses to make the vaccine a requirement of employment, they will need to have a clear set of guidelines. It is recommended companies have a written policy to help outline what the COVID-19 vaccine policy is for employees and any consequences possible if the employees refuse to be inoculated.

What Can Companies Do If An Employee Refuses?

If an employee doesn't want to receive the vaccination for any reason, it is their right to refuse. There are three main reasons why someone will refuse the vaccine:

  1. Disability: There is a small chance the vaccine could have a severe adverse reaction in someone with a severely immunocompromised system. A person with a disability can opt-out of the vaccine at their doctor's recommendation or if they believe it will do their body more harm than good. 

  2. Religious Choice: A variety of religions have a belief system that says not to take vaccinations, which they should be allowed to do without repercussions.

  3. History of Allergic Reactions: Doctors recommend those who have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines they received in the past to pass on receiving the vaccination. 

If employees refuse for either of the above reasons, there should be reasonable accommodations for the employee to keep themselves and other people safe. However, if there aren't reasonable accommodations to be made, then the employees who refuse that vaccine can be barred from the workplace.

What Can Companies Do to Help Employees to Choose to Vaccinate?

Employees may refuse the vaccination based on conflicting information from several sources, varying from the major news networks to streamers on social media platforms. 

Misinformation can seep into the truth when individuals are being told different things from day to day, leading them to refuse the vaccination based on information that may or may not be accurate. 

Rather than implementing mandates, employers may wish to focus on steps they can take to encourage and incentivize employees to get vaccinated. 

Here are some things you can do to help your employees who might be reluctant to get the vaccine to feel more at ease:

  • Have an education plan about details of the vaccine
  • Make obtaining the vaccine a smooth process for employees
  • Cover any expenses related to the vaccine
  • Give an incentive for those who choose to vaccinate
  • Have paid time off available for employees to receive vaccines and recover from the side effects the vaccine might cause.

Implementing these above suggestions will give employees the correct information and make the vaccine process smoother for all employees.

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