As the rollout of vaccinations for COVID-19 ramps up in the new year, employers are wondering whether they can mandate that employees receive vaccines to combat the spread of this virus.
The short answer? Yes, they can. Employers who are concerned about COVID-19 exposure due to their industry and the nature of their work can require employees to be vaccinated. Businesses, however, must allow exemptions for employees who cannot be vaccinated because of disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, according to guidance released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last month.
Those who decide to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other workplace laws, according to the EEOC.
If an employee refuses to receive a vaccine because of a medical reason, disability or sincerely held religious belief, the employer can require documentation. In those cases, employers must try to make reasonable accommodations, including changing the employee’s job, or asking that the employee work remotely or take a leave of absence.
Companies should assess whether the accommodation causes an undue hardship or poses a direct threat by exposing others in the workplace to the virus. An unvaccinated individual might be deemed a direct threat because of “a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation,” according to the EEOC. Four factors should be considered in determining a direct threat:
- The duration of the risk.
- The nature and severity of the potential harm.
- The likelihood that the potential harm will occur.
- The imminence of the potential harm.
If no accommodation is possible, the EEOC recommends checking to see whether rights apply under other workplace, local, federal or state laws.
I recognize that COIVD-19 has challenged everyone in different ways. Some employees may not want to be vaccinated for personal reasons. Employers should not randomly fire workers for refusing to get the vaccination, even if they do not have a medical or religious reason. As in any case, be cautious and consult legal counsel before terminating an employee.
Employers struggle to balance trying to run a business with protecting their employees’ health. Assess the situation and look at what policy is best for the business and will not alienate the employees. I encourage employers to help employees who can be vaccinated to get the vaccine to ensure we have enough people immunized against COVID-19 to stop the pandemic.
Be prepared: January marks start for PFML benefits
Massachusetts is one of six states to have enacted a paid family and medical leave law. Originally, the state’s PFML law was passed as part of the “Grand Bargain” legislation, which also included changes to the state minimum wage and hours worked. Employers need to be prepared as most paid family and medical leave benefits under the new law became available Jan. 1.
Protect your workforce with COVID-19 safety measures
As COVID-19 cases surge nationwide, employers have a responsibility to ensure they have a safe work environment for employees. All it takes are some simple, commonsense measures that can be taken by everyone to minimize risks in the workplace.
Solo talk show
Tune in to my talk show, “Connections Count,” at 1 p.m. Mondays on Unity Radio 97.9 FM. You also can find it on Unity Radio’s website at https://www.wuty979fm.org/monday. Now the sole host of the show, I am actively seeking guests to join me in these conversations. If you would like to be a guest, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
50+ Job Seekers’ virtual meetings resume for growing numbers
Thanks to continuing support from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group workshops are resuming on Zoom with more options for additional networking and guest speaker events. We have seen enormous growth in participation for these programs.
The topic for the January sessions is “Self-Assessment, Career Pathways, and Ageism.”
The workshops are scheduled for:
- Friday, Jan. 15, 1 to 3 p.m.
- Monday, Jan. 18, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The virtual doors open 15 minutes before the program starts. Pre-registration for first-time participants is at https://50plusjobseekers.org/outreach/registration/.
If you’re already registered with the 50+ Job Seekers program, you’ll receive an email inviting you to sign up for the sessions.
Contact me at email@example.com with any questions about Human Resources.