MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – Now that the Covid vaccine is easy to get, and more offices are opening back up, there is a big question many are asking: Can an employer legally mandate that its employees receive the Covid-19 vaccine?
“The answer is yes,” according to Zachary Schurin, an attorney with Pullman & Comley. “Yes. Not maybe, yes.”
Lawyers from Pullman and Comley held a webinar, sponsored by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce to help employers navigate vaccine issues.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that vaccines mandates are legal.
“Any of those mandatory vaccination policies, however, have to allow for provisions for reasonable accommodations in certain situations,” said attorney Melinda Kaufmann, also with Pullman & Comley. “The three that the EEOC [The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] has specifically discussed are disability, pregnancy, and religion.”
For disability and pregnancy, employers need to have a conversation with the employee.
“You can ask for medical documentation of the reason they are asking for an exemption,” Kaufmann said. “You can go through different scenarios of what could be an accommodation…”
Accommodations such as remote work, or putting up partitions. As for religious objections, employers can argue it would be a hardship to accommodate them
“You, as the employers, need only show that accommodation would have more than a minimal cost or burden to the employer,” said Kaufmann.
There is one court case about COVID vaccine mandates so far. Houston Methodist Hospital required all employees to get vaccinated. 117 employees sued.
“I am more than willing to take it once, the FDA has approved it,” said Melissa Smith, a former nurse at the hospital.
A federal judge threw out the suit, saying it had no legal merit. Yes, the FDA has only authorized Covid vaccines on an “Emergency” basis, but the law is clear, that does not matter.
“This whole emergency use authorization issue, it’s sort of a red herring when it comes to employer mandates for vaccinations,” Schurin said.
If workers are part of a union, the employer has to negotiate with the union before it can start firing anyone over vaccines. Also remember, vaccination status is considered confidential, so the boss can demand vaccination proof, but cannot tell other employees who are vaccinated.