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The responsibility to offer employees both a safe and fair place to work remains paramount, and leads to the inevitable question—what are the legalities surrounding businesses requiring vaccinations in order to return to work?
It goes without saying that 2021 has seen remarkable shifts within our country. During the first half of the year, as vaccinations became readily available to larger population segments, we saw the country begin to wake up and move again—travel notably increased, businesses resumed full capacity, and more and more offices began reopening. On May 13, the CDC officially declared that those who are vaccinated no longer need to wear masks (with a few exceptions). Shortly after on June 15, California, one of the most steadfast states regarding COVID restrictions, officially reopened for business at full capacity.
Unfortunately, August painted a different picture. The Delta variant became the dominant strain of COVID within the United States, with statistics showing that the majority of new COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths are from the unvaccinated. The CDC updated mask guidelines yet again, recommending those fully vaccinated still wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.
As businesses make the choice to reopen amid these latest developments, the responsibility to offer employees both a safe and fair place to work remains paramount, and leads to the inevitable question—what are the legalities surrounding businesses requiring vaccinations in order to return to work? In August we saw several corporations begin to require vaccinations, including Google, Facebook, Morgan Stanley and many others. Then the FDA fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which could lead to even more businesses and institutions requiring vaccinations. Case in point: within hours of the FDA approval, New York City announced that all Department of Education employees must have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27.
Undoubtedly, the best way to understand the laws surrounding vaccination requirements is to confer with your legal counsel, but also arm yourself with the knowledge of what is allowed based on guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
On May 28, 2021, the EEOC issued important COVID-19 updates on federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, to assist businesses that were, and are, actively updating safety policies to comply with federal and state guidance. This update included several key points, offering businesses directives on how to maintain a compliant workplace:
This helpful update from the EEOC allows businesses to feel confident in their decisions on whether or not to require vaccinations, knowing they are adhering to the laws dictated by the EEOC. In addition, the EEOC developed a resource for job applicants and employees, detailing the federal laws that protect employees from discrimination as a result of the pandemic, to ensure a workplace free of discrimination. It is vital for employers to understand these laws just as much as those above:
As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, it is crucial for employers to create a workplace that is both safe and free of discrimination, and communicate COVID-19 policies to employees clearly and regularly. Understanding both employer and employee rights under the guidance of the EEOC, as well as consulting with legal counsel, will allow employers to more safely reopen the workplace.
Tim Dowd, MBA, is the CEO of Accurate Background.