Can firms require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19?

Can employers require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to the office? In short, yes. However, be sure to understand how the law operates in this area.

Employees are protected by federal civil rights laws, and those protections extend to how employers may require vaccinations. Those laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) with respect to religion, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance to employers in December 2020. As part of its guidance, the EEOC cautions employers to consider the following:

  • accommodating disabilities
  • accommodating sincerely held religious beliefs
  • disability-related inquiries and medical exams
  • confidentiality of medical information
  • pandemic-related harassment due to national origin, race, or other protected characteristics
  • age-based exclusions from the workplace

If you implement a policy that requires your employees to be vaccinated, make sure all requirements, and follow up questions you ask employees are job-related and consistent with business necessity and any requests for proof of vaccination are limited so that medical information disclosed does not run afoul of medical information confidentiality.

As with many things during the pandemic, the landscape continues to move. Firms would be well-advised to stay abreast of developments in this area and consult with legal counsel before implementing any mandatory vaccination policies.

For more information, please contact Terrence “Terry” Ona, Esq., Senior Vice President, General Counsel, AIA Office of General Counsel, at tona@aia.org or 202.626.7375.

This has been provided for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. You should consult with your own attorneys for counsel on your specific set of facts.

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