Can Your Employer Force You To Get Vaccinated?

Dear Rich Lifer,

The pandemic recovery has affected different industries in very different ways. 

Covid-19 has changed the way people work in pretty much every sector of the economy, and now that the U.S. is slowly moving back to “normal,” things are changing when it comes to work environments. 

There has been an unending amount of uncertainty in our lives over the past year, and with guidelines and regulations shifting constantly, it can often be daunting to stay up to date on all the information. 

If you’ve found yourself asking, “Can my employer force me to get a vaccine?” or “Will I have to wear a mask at work?” today, you are in luck.

Today we will explore how coronavirus has changed work requirements. And tomorrow, we will cover how pandemic recovery has affected a few key industries. 

Read on…

Mandating Vaccines 

As the U.S. job market ramps up and hiring continues to increase, many new (and existing) positions are listing a Covid-19 vaccination as a requirement. 

From service jobs in New York City to office jobs in Houston to machinery operation positions in Louisville, it’s becoming increasingly common to see this requirement on job applications. 

However, these types of mandates are in their early stages, which makes it hard to determine the percentage of jobs requiring vaccines on a national level. 

Many companies have been hesitant to make vaccinations a requirement due to the initially limited number of vaccines and the fear of backlash from employees, employment attorneys and HR executives. 

However, now that half of all adult Americans have received a Covid-19 vaccine and the shots themselves are open to every adult in every state, these types of requirements may start to become more common. 

According to recent polls conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 17% of Americans are still reporting reluctance to become vaccinated due to possible side effects, safety concerns and mistrust. This is a significant drop from the 39% who said they were waiting back in December 2020. 

Of course, requiring employees to get certain vaccines can become a legal issue. 

Kevin Troutman, a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP, explains that companies can legally require you to get a vaccine, but they must also accommodate religious beliefs and medical conditions that could prevent you from becoming vaccinated. 

Employers can also request proof of vaccination, although legal risk may arise for bosses if they probe into their employee’s hesitancy. 

Mr. Troutman states, “The enforcement process can be pretty complicated,” and notes that companies are giving employees advanced notice and months to comply with vaccination requirements. He observes, “I’m beginning to see a slow movement of more employers looking to require it.”

Last week, President Joe Biden called on companies to offer paid-time-off for employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine and recover from any possible side effects. He explained a new tax credit for small businesses that will help them afford to pay for employees’ time off. 

The credit was funded by President Biden’s recent Covid-19 package and will offset costs up to $511 per day for up to 80 hours, or 10 workdays, and will be offered between April 1 and September 30. Companies with less than 500 employees will qualify for the tax credit.

Masks at Work

Whether you are worried about being asked to wear a mask at work or are worried about your boss telling you to unmask, there has been a lot of anxiety and questions surrounding masking in the workplace. 

Many states are dropping mask mandates, leaving employees uncertain of what will be required of them in offices and work environments. 

The bottom line is, as long as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals wear masks and social distance, you have solid legal footing for wearing a mask, if it makes you feel safer. 

State and local mask mandates offer more protection, but some states never required or have lifted mask mandates.

This makes it confusing to know your rights when it comes to wearing a mask at work. 

Wendy Strobel Gower, the program director of disability, inclusion and accommodation at Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, believes that because mask-wearing has become highly politicized, we might see employers trying to ban mask-wearing in offices to present an image of normalcy. 

“It comes down to: Does your company have an obligation to follow the guidance of federal and also state and local authorities?” Ms. Gower states. 

Although things may continue to change, the guidelines overall are fairly clear according to the CDC, which states that managers and business owners should “ensure all employees wear masks in accordance with CDC and OSHA guidance as well as any state or local requirements.”

This is a guideline, however, not a mandate, and employers who violate it would be doing so “at their own peril, even if you’re still in the realm of just recommendations,” according to Jim Paretti, an attorney with employment law firm Littler Mendelson.

Mr. Paretti says he will look at mask-wearing as a liability issue until the CDC announces we have achieved enough vaccinations that masking is no longer recommended. 

According to experts, things will get more complicated once we move out of “pandemic” territory. Currently, the Covid-19 crisis is labeled as a pandemic by the World Health Organization and the CDC. When these institutions eventually remove the pandemic label, employers will have more discretion about how to handle masks in the workplace. 

For now, Ms. Gower believes that when it comes to mask-wearing, “a lot of employers will say, ‘whatever makes you happy,’ because they don’t want people to get sick either,” but when it comes to pandemic guidances being lifted, “they may be able to say ‘no, you can’t.’” 

Once the pandemic label is removed, people with disabilities that make them more inclined to become seriously ill due to coronavirus will likely be the only ones legally protected when it comes to masking. Such individuals will be able to get accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The removal of the pandemic label is likely not going to happen anytime soon; so for now, you should feel comfortable masking at work to protect yourself and others.

Stay tuned for our piece tomorrow, when we will dive deeper into how the pandemic recovery has affected different industries…

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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