Vaccinations: COVID-19, the Flu, and You
The Pandemic of 2020 brought numerous challenges to architectural firms worldwide. Among these challenges, employers may consider how best to preserve the health of their workforce through promotion of vaccinations. These considerations have annual relevance for flu shots and, especially today, particular relevance for new COVID-19 vaccines. Before determining any office vaccination policies, offering in-studio injections, or taking other action, firm leadership should understand the many ramifications of such decisions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides information related to pandemic preparations in a 2009 document updated in March 2020 to include guidance on COVID-19. The document describes the circumstances of a pandemic and introduces relevant Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements of employers regarding vaccination and exemptions thereof. These include, but are not limited to, a prohibition of disability-related questioning and/or mandatory medical examinations along with standards for offers of employment, confidentiality of information, requirements for reasonable accommodations (such as telework in lieu of vaccination), and direct threat exemptions to ADA protections. The EEOC has also included a helpful series of frequently asked questions and answers, plus links to other EEOC guidelines and resources.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides valuable information as well, including links introducing relevant laws for vaccine-preventable diseases. The CDC notes that each state differs in statute and regulation, which will add another level of complexity for any firm that has offices/employees in multiple jurisdictions. An additional CDC link conveys individual state’s published vaccination requirements for children attending school or childcare facilities. The requirements, and exemptions from those requirements, vary widely among states. This information begins here.
The CDC also offers guidance regarding those who should not be vaccinated, based on a variety of factors, such as general health and/or age of the individual. This information may be found here.
And the CDC offers advice to proactive employers that make annual flu vaccinations part of their workplace wellness program. While this guidance has not yet been updated to include COVID-19 vaccines, it is likely instructive as your firm considers its approach to the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine.
In establishing your firm’s vaccination policies, especially with regard to any COVID-19 vaccines, it is necessary to understand that information is continually evolving, and you should consult these various resources regularly to monitor any changes. In terms of balancing an overriding office-wide vaccination policy against the various interests and obligations identified in this article, it is worth noting the EEOC’s guidance on the flu vaccine. The EEOC suggests employers encourage, rather than mandate vaccination, stating, “Generally, ADA-covered employers should consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it.”
Currently, there is not a COVID-19 vaccine widely available. Employers will need to evaluate the current circumstances when such vaccines become available. While a general policy of “encouragement” is likely the proper course, the overall threat level at the time the vaccine becomes available will be a major point of consideration. There may be other considerations as well. Certain clients may have elevated requirements. For example, many healthcare institutions, because of the nature of their work, may impose a requirement for vaccination, which may be imposed on the A/E/C team members that work within those facilities.
AIA has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice. The Risk Management Program posts new materials and resources periodically.