Is it Legal for Employers to Require a COVID-19 Vaccination?

Amidst the devastation of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, millions eagerly anticipated the arrival of a solution. Upon the creation and release of several COVID-19 vaccines, the world slowly regained a needed sense of normalcy. Despite this, plenty of questions, concerns, and even legal issues have been raised concerning these vaccinations. One of the most common is regarding the legality of vaccine mandates. Particularly, as employees re-enter the workforce, they’ve wondered if employers can legally require the COVID-19 vaccine.

Federal Vaccination Requirements and Guidance for Employers

While the federal government recommends that all eligible individuals should get the COVID-19 vaccine, they likely will not require all citizens to be vaccinated. That being said, vaccine mandates largely fall upon the shoulders of the state and local government branches, along with the employer themselves.

For instance, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that it will require all health care workers on the front-line to be vaccinated within 8 weeks to retain employment. On the federal level, vaccinations are required for employees, and unvaccinated staff will be required to undergo regular testing, wear face masks, and follow other safety measures. President Biden announced in July 2021 that could face discipline or termination if they refuse to be tested or falsify their vaccination status.

In recent weeks, President Biden has instructed his team to follow these same strict standards for federal contractors as well as federal employees within the civilian workforce. Furthermore, the Biden administration plans to encourage all employers to follow this model when it comes to vaccination requirements and employment in the future.

New York City: COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements for City Employees

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that all city employees must attest to being fully vaccinated or they will follow suit with the current federal practices in place. This applies to all employees of the city, including teachers, police officers, foster care workers, and those who work in senior citizen facilities, among others. 

Those who are unvaccinated will be required to take weekly COVID-19 tests, practice social distancing and wear a facial covering in all indoor settings—regardless of occupancy. City employees who do not abide by these regulations will be placed on temporary leave without pay and face termination. As a trailblazer, New York City is one of the first to take this stance, but it is likely that other employers, cities, and states aren’t far behind.

Healthcare Employees

Although the subject of mandatory vaccinations for employees has been discussed in-depth, those in the healthcare field are likely the first to see such requirements in efforts to protect patients and caretakers alike. With organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association calling for mandatory vaccinations for employees, this requirement will likely outweigh any local or state regulations for these employees.

Those who refuse vaccination in this setting may face termination. With employers citing the safety of the patients and co-workers as a top priority, it is a valid concern, and all healthcare facilities have the right to enforce vaccination mandates.

Lawsuits Regarding Mandatory Vaccinations

Across the country, a number of lawsuits have already emerged from employees in efforts to fight these requirements. When brought before a federal judge, it was determined that vaccination mandates do not break any federal laws. 

Likewise, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission has declared that employers have the legal right to require the COVID-19 vaccination for employees. Despite this, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to those who are unable to receive the vaccine due to medical problems, disabilities, or religious beliefs. 

In these cases, employees may opt to allow weekly testing or mask mandates in lieu of the vaccine. Employees who refuse to comply with vaccination, social distancing, or masking requirements can legally be terminated from employment.

If you are facing mandated vaccination at work and believe that you have legal grounds to refuse or file a lawsuit, get in touch with Napoli Shkolnik. Our skilled team of attorneys will provide a free case evaluation.