Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace: How it works

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As America waits for emergency use authorization hearings for Pfizer’s vaccine candidate scheduled Thursday, companies will soon have to make decisions about their policies.

Many employees are asking the question: Can an employer force you to get the COVID 19 vaccine?

“In general, yes they can, but it also comes with many caveats,” said Amy Adolay, a partner at the law firm Krieg DeVault in Indianapolis.

The bigger question then becomes, will they require the vaccine? That answer is a little more complicated.

“Some companies have expressed worry they may lose employees and have a staff shortage or that requiring the vaccine will affect company morale,” said Adolay.

But Adolay also says there has already been more employer rights given COVID-19 is a pandemic and unlike other vaccines like the flu, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) has said the virus is a direct threat.

“That’s why employers have been able to ask questions about their employee symptoms, have been able to do temperature checks and things like mandate testing,” added Adolay.

Requiring the vaccine can be challenged. Employees can ask their employers for religious accommodations, for example. Those accommodations could include working from home, requiring face coverings or isolating that person’s workspace from others.

Adolay says the time is now for companies to think about their plans and communicate those policies to their employees while focusing on education of the vaccine.

“It’s going to come down to each employer looking at its industry and deciding what are the threats to customers, patients, employees and then deciding what do we want our policy to be. Regardless of what the law might saw we can do or can’t do in terms of mandatory vaccinations, but what we want our policy to be for our employees,” said Adolay.

For service industry workers and health care workers, accomdations will be less likely and companies will have to consider all employees when writing policies including those who choose to get the vaccine.

While vaccine roll out for the general population is still months away, Adolay says she expects we will hear more from the EEOC in the coming weeks on its position on vaccine mandates.