How Should California Employers Handle COVID-19 Vaccinations?

Now that the COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available for some time and workplaces are opening back up, many employers are faced with deciding what their policy will be regarding workplace vaccination. Below is a discussion of some state and federal guidelines you should keep in mind as you craft and implement these policies. 

Employers ARE Able to Require Vaccination

Days after the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in New York, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance on requiring vaccinations for employees. The federal agency concluded that nothing prevents employers from requiring employees who physically occupy a workplace to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, employers need to be cognizant of workplace protections provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). 

Title VII might come into play if an employee does not wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine due to a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. When employers are notified of this, they must find out whether or not a reasonable accommodation is available for the employee objecting under Title VII. A reasonable accommodation can take many forms, and it’s best to confer with your attorney before taking any action. 

Employees who don’t wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine due to a disability are also generally entitled to reasonable accommodations. If a reasonable accommodation is not available—for instance, if the accommodation would pose an undue hardship for the employer—the employer may not require the employee to get a vaccine unless the unvaccinated employee would post a “direct threat” to the health and safety of other employees. 

In some cases, reasonable accommodations and/or medical leave must be offered to pregnant employees who do not wish to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Everything mentioned in this section—Title VII, ADA, reasonable accommodations, undue hardships, and direct threats—should be viewed in light of your unique circumstances. 

Asking for Vaccination Proof

In June 2021, the state issued amended Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) for employers. These guidelines do not prevent employers from requesting proof of vaccination. In fact, employees must show they are fully vaccinated in order to work indoors without a face covering. The ETS do not specify a method for verifying an employee’s vaccination status, but verification must be kept confidential. If employees do not want to divulge their vaccination status, they should be treated as unvaccinated by their employers. 

Consult an Attorney Before Doing Anything
Even with these rules in play, the question of how to handle COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace does not have a simple answer and will vary depending on your circumstances. The sensitivity of this issue, combined with the difficulty of staying compliant with fast-changing standards, makes this a complicated decision that should be approached carefully. Our experienced legal team can help, so contact Integrated General Counsel today to set up an initial consultation.