Getting Needled at Work -- Literally
In the interest of protecting their workforce, many employers not only make certain vaccinations available voluntarily to their employees, but often require them as a condition of employment. However, the legalities of this requirement can often be complicated.
For example, a hospital or other health care facility would have an excellent reason to insist that its employees be vaccinated against certain things, but for other employers this may be more complicated and even hospitals aren’t immune (pun intended) to this.
Right now, vaccinations are a hotly debated issue with many parents opting out of giving these to their children. But what happens when an employer mandates that its employees get vaccinated? Can an employer legally do this? The short answer is “yes,” but there are circumstances when an employee has a legal leg to stand on and can refuse.
An article on Workforce.com titled, Vaccinations in the Workplace Can Be a Prickly Issue, references several federal laws and religious circumstances that can negate an employer’s insistence on employees getting vaccinated. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin is prohibited. Therefore, if someone has a religious objection to a mandatory vaccination, then an employer would be legally obligated to exempt them or provide an accommodation.
Furthermore, someone could have an objection due to a medical condition, or if they are allergic to any of the ingredients that make up the vaccine (e.g., most flu shots are egg- or chicken-based). The Americans with Disabilities Act specifically would prevent an employer from forcing a vaccination on someone with this issue.
There are also practical issues that employers face, such as what to do about employees who work off-site and only occasionally come to the corporate office. An employee would probably need to take time off to get vaccinated and an employer may not be able to ask for proof of vaccination due to the aforementioned Civil Rights and Americans with Disabilities Acts, not to mention HIPAA. These federal laws almost always take precedence.
Fortunately for most employers that are not in the health care industry, workplace vaccination policies are not as strict and HR departments often don’t have to deal with these issues. It’s still a good idea for employers to provide either free or low cost vaccinations to employees -- especially to those who truly want them. An employer just needs to make sure they stress these are voluntary.