On December 16, 2020, EEOC (the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) updated its COVID-19 guidance to state that organizations may implement mandatory vaccination policies once the vaccine becomes widely accessible. But such policies must meet certain assured obligations under federal anti-discrimination regulations.
Consistent with the previous guidelines regarding mandatory vaccinations, the EEOC declared that organizations may require that workers receive a COVID-19 vaccine before reporting to work. However, organizations must consider accommodations for employees who refuse to get vaccinated because of a medical disability or genuinely held religious belief.
EEOC Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policies
Concerning the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), the updated EEOC guidance offers some clarity of the process and considerations for an organization to take into account when regulating a mandatory vaccination requirement with a worker who has a disability and seeks an accommodation from the requirement. As per the updated guidance of EEOC, an organization may exclude a worker with a covered disability by joining the work when that worker poses a “direct threat” to the well-being and sanctuary of other workers. Therefore, an organization can execute a mandatory vaccination plan to diminish the threat of workplace exposure to COVID-19. In fact, even where such a threat exists, the organization must conduct an individualized evaluation to decide whether the threat could be diminished through reasonable accommodation, like permitting the worker to continue working remotely or changing the duties of the worker to lessen the amount of contact with people.
However, if the threat can’t be diminished without extreme hardship, the organization may bar the worker from physically joining the workplace. But the organization cannot automatically terminate the worker. Instead, organizations will need to determine whether there are any other rights that apply under federal, state, and local authorities. For example, a worker who refuses a vaccine because of a disability may possibly be eligible to take leave under the FMLA, the FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act), or other Company leave of absence policy.
Furthermore, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an organization must give reasonable accommodation for a worker whose genuinely held religious beliefs hinder them from getting a COVID-19 vaccine unless doing so would pose an extreme hardship. Because the interpretation of religion is broad, the EEOC guidance recommends that organizations should generally assume that the request of a worker for a spiritual accommodation is on basis of a sincerely held religious belief. Similarly, in the case of disabled workers, an organization may exclude a religious objector from the workplace. But for that, it is important to determine whether any reasonable accommodation could enable the worker to continue working.
Organizations should consider the pros and cons of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. To know more about the EEOC guidance on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for workers, attend the Compliance Prime webinar.