New hot topic in HR: Getting employees vaccinated.

At long last, COVID-19 vaccinations are available and moving forward in earnest. This is tremendous news for all of us – but for HR professionals, it raises some urgent and potentially complex issues.

One of them involves the basic question of whether employers may legally mandate vaccinations for employees returning to the workplace. The short answer: yes.

While the public-health case for this may seem obvious to many employers, there will be some employees who are strongly disinclined to get vaccinated, and may object to any such requirement.

However, at this stage the law does not seem to be on their side (see caveats below). Besides, any risk of lawsuits from vaccine-averse employees should be weighed against the risk of suits from any worker, customer, or member of the public who might claim to have gotten the virus as a result of coming into contact with a non-vaccinated employee.

I’m in no position to say if such suits would actually succeed. (In fact, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t take anything in this post as legal guidance one way or another – if you have questions that a lawyer should answer, I’d be glad to refer you to some very good ones.)

Beyond the threshold question of whether employers may mandate COVID vaccinations, there are several potentially complicated factors that HR pros should bear in mind. Many of them are outlined in the EEOC’s online primer on how coronavirus-related considerations interact with the ADA and other employment laws.

As some thoughtful commentaries have noted, the need for vaccination mandates is greater for some employers than for others – and there may be cases where a policy of “voluntary but strongly encouraged” vaccination may make more sense than outright mandates. In addition, employers considering a mandate should be very mindful of disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that may compel exceptions or special accommodations.

Got any questions? Want to talk it over? Just let us know – and we’ll be glad to refer you to a reliable expert for any query we can’t handle ourselves. ###

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