Life hasn’t been close to normal since March 2021, when coronavirus began rapidly spreading in the United States. In California, many business owners have faced having to shut down, limit the number of customers they serve, increase their sanitizing and cleaning efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and more.
Now, finally, two vaccines are available and you want to do all you can to ensure your workers stay healthy in the coming months, to boost business productivity and customers’ confidence they won’t contract COVID-19 at your business. Can you just require that your employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible?
Employee rights vs. employer rights
Technically, businesses can require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, business may need to allow exemptions in the following circumstances:
- When getting the vaccine goes against an employee’s deeply held religious beliefs
- When receiving the vaccine may endanger an employee’s health or create serious health problems for an employee because of a preexisting condition.
Some employers may forgo requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, yet recommend that employees do get vaccinated. This would minimize an employer’s liability if one of its workers got the vaccine and then experienced health problems because of it.
However, businesses where workers have a high risk for contracting COVID-19 are more likely to require employee vaccination. Some of the industries considered high risk include food service, grocery stores, childcare and health care settings. Dollar General has decided to give its employees four hours of paid time off to get the vaccine in hopes the workers choose to do that.
Giving employees reasonable accommodations
Employers need to consider giving employees who don’t want to get the COVID-19 reasonable accommodations if they can. Some of these reasonable accommodations include:
- Allowing employees to work away from fellow employees
- Allowing employees to continue working remotely if possible
- Giving employees full personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gowns and gloves
Employers shouldn’t be surprised if they face employee resistance to getting the vaccine. The debate around the effectiveness and dangers of vaccines has been swelling for years. In addition, manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine developed the vaccine quickly. That may be another reason why employers chose to recommend that employees get the vaccine, but not require them to do so.