Can employers require mandatory COVID-19 vaccines? In the first case of first impression, a judge in Houston, Texas dismissed a lawsuit regarding a hospital worker who refused a mandatory vaccine (June 12, 2021). Per hospital mandate, to continue employment with Houston Methodist Hospital, managers had to be vaccinated by April 15 and all other workers had to be vaccinated by June 7. Most employees followed the direction of the hospital, but there were over 100 employees that refused to be vaccinated. The unvaccinated employees sued the hospital for “unlawfully forcing its employees to be injected” or be fired. After trial, the judge dismissed the case by stating that Methodist hospital is trying to save lives without spreading the COVID-19 disease. The judge told the unvaccinated employees that they could find work somewhere else.
As we approach July 2021, we are hearing the news, friends, family, and business owners speak about mandatory vaccines and what they should do. Small business owners are planning about how they should approach vaccines in general. Over 50% of Americans having received a COVID-19 vaccine, but there are many others that have decided not to get it, and many others have natural immunities after recovering from COVID-19. Should employers require or encourage COVID-19 vaccines? Most businesses that are mandating vaccines are health care employers followed by food service and education industries. Construction, administrative, real estate, and transportation are industries with the lowest percent of companies that are mandating vaccines for employees.
If you decide to mandate or encourage vaccines as a small business owner, there is some information to help guide you in this process. Ensure that you do not ask for too much information from the employee. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that you are allowed to ask about vaccination status and require proof such as a vaccine card. However, employers should not ask follow up questions regarding the vaccination status such as why they are or not vaccinated. Answers to these questions may result in uncovering medical issues that implicate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). All questions should be job related and necessary for business without asking about general medical health. If employees provide vaccination status, make sure that the data remains confidential on the same level as employee medical information.
Employers that want to encourage vaccinations should educate and provide their employees with factual information about the injection. Learning about the vaccination can help reduce misunderstanding and answer any questions regarding whether they should or should not receive the vaccine. Making it easier for the employees to obtain the vaccine, such as providing information about vaccine locations and how to receive one, also boosts the number of vaccinated workers in your business. Other employers have decided to provide incentives to employees who get the vaccine or provide time off to deal with potential symptoms and side effects. Read more information about the vaccine here.