can employers require the covid 19 vaccine

Can Employers Require the Covid-19 Vaccine?

By Thomas McKinney

The Covid-19 pandemic and its persistence have forced many of us to confront some complexities you can only face in such an unprecedented time. The world shut down and then vaccines came and things started to reopen. Those who had been working remotely slowly started coming back into the office. Employers had to make choices for their businesses while making efforts to ensure the safety of workers, clients, and customers. With the Covid-19 vaccine being a rather hot-button topic these days, many have wondered whether employers can require employees to get the vaccines.

Are Employers Able to Require the Covid-19 Vaccine?

Put simply, yes, an employer can require employees to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in order to return to the office or workplace. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. For instance, an employee who cannot get the vaccine due to a disabling condition has been advised by their doctor not to get the vaccine because of being pregnant or breastfeeding, or due to sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. 

For those employees claiming to be unable to get vaccinated for one or more of these reasons, employers must tread carefully as there are potential violations of privacy and anti-discrimination laws at play. Generally speaking, however, an employer may request medical documentation to support that a disability or claimed medical condition prevents the employee from getting the Covid-19 vaccine. Any information received regarding this, however, must be kept confidential by the employer and retained as a confidential medical record.

Regarding an employee who asserts an inability to get the Covid-19 vaccine due to a religious belief, practice, or observance, an employer must also tread carefully. It is important for the employer to avoid question the sincerity of an employee’s beliefs. If the employer, however, has an objective basis for calling the religious beliefs and practices into question, then a limited inquiry may be made by the employer regarding the employee’s request to be exempt from the vaccine requirement.

Should an employee have a protected and well-founded reason for not getting the Covid-19 vaccine despite the employer’s general mandate to get the vaccine before return to work in the office or business space, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for the employee unless such an accommodation would be an undue burden. Any accommodations must take into account health and safety policies issued by the CDC and other local, state, and federal authorities. Furthermore, the safety and well-being of others must be considered in determining a reasonable accommodation. In many cases, such employees will likely provide accommodations, such as continuing to work remotely. Should no reasonable accommodation be available for the employee that would reduce the risk of Covid-19 spread, the employer may be able to legally enforce the vaccine mandate upon the employee despite what would otherwise be a legally protected status.

Employment Law Attorneys

Navigating workspace in the time of Covid-19 can be incredibly difficult. In these unprecedented times, the dedicated employment law team at Castronovo & McKinney is here to provide you with sound legal counsel. Contact us today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.