The COVID-19 vaccination has full FDA approval. Now, eyes are turning to see if employers will force workers to get vaccinated. Delta Airlines announced that unvaccinated workers would face a $200 health insurance charge and weekly testing. Delta isn’t alone. Here are some other companies mandating vaccinations.
- Amtrak – Employees must be vaccinated or agree to weekly COVID tests starting November 1st.
- Bank of America – Only vaccinated employees will be allowed to return to their offices.
- Citigroup – All employees returning to their offices have to be vaccinated, while the branches require masks but not the vaccination.
- Microsoft – All employees have to be vaccinated to return to the office, as do guests and vendors.
- Walt Disney – All on-site non-union and salaried employees must be vaccinated. Union workers have until October 22nd to receive their vaccinations.
One of the most highly debated aspects of the pandemic has been whether your employer can force employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Now that the FDA has fully approved the vaccination, it’s a topic on many people’s minds. Some feel it’s their body, their right to avoid the vaccine. What does the law say?
The ADA oversees federal employment nondiscrimination laws. Those are the laws that cover things like mandatory vaccinations. Per Title VII and Equal Employment Opportunity rules, employers can mandate vaccinations, but there are exceptions. Learn more about the exceptions to see if they apply to you before reaching out to an attorney specializing in employment discrimination.
Title VII and ADA Rules on Reasonable Accommodations
There are two situations where employees can skip the COVID-19 vaccination and not be in trouble with their employer. The two exceptions are religion or disability/health. Before you decide to accuse your employer of discrimination for religion or disability, you need to make sure that you qualify when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccination.
Certain religions do not allow vaccinations for any reason. Those who have these religious objections can file a religious exception with their employer. The number of religions that can object to the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t as plentiful as you might think.
Some of the religions that may disallow vaccinations are okay with the COVID-19 vaccination. Remember that this is a health crisis that most of us have never faced before. Islam disallows any products derived from pork, so Muslims must avoid vaccinations created with pork products (gelatin). However, Islamic leaders state that vaccines are necessary for a healthy lifestyle and, therefore, are allowable.
While the Catholic Church objects to vaccines that use fetal cells, the COVID-19 vaccinations offered by Moderna and Pfizer are not produced with fetal cells. Pope Francis himself announced on August 18th that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is “an act of love.” Guidelines for Catholics are to opt for one of those and skip the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Only two religions expressly forbid vaccinations of any kind. They are the Dutch Reformed Church and Christian Scientists. But, employers do have to tread carefully as they cannot just assume an employee is making up a “sincerely held” religious belief or moral objection.
Very few medical restrictions are in place for the COVID-19 vaccination. Take a closer look at the areas where people are concerned about immunization safety for disability and health reasons.
#1 – Pregnancy
While pregnancy falls under the exception for disability/health, the CDC approved the vaccination in pregnancy. CDC determined the vaccination is safe for anyone 12 or older or who is pregnant.
How did the CDC determine that the vaccination is safe for pregnant women? They looked at the data from 2,500 pregnant women who received the shot during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The miscarriage rate was 13%. Compare that to the average miscarriage rate of 13.5% in all pregnancies.
#2 – Allergies to Ingredients
If you are allergic to ingredients used in vaccines, you may not be able to get the COVID-19 vaccination safely. However, you need to talk to your doctor, as not every vaccine contains the same ingredients. If you can’t get Pfizer, you might be okay getting Moderna.
For people who are allergic to polyethylene glycol, it’s recommended that Johnson & Johnson be given. If you’re allergic to polysorbate, the CDC recommends sticking to Pfizer or Moderna. Your doctor can advise you on how to proceed.
If you’re avoiding the vaccination due to chronic health conditions like heart disease, autoimmune disorders, etc., the CDC has tested and said the vaccine is safe. It would be best if you asked your doctor for guidance.
Alternatives to the Vaccination
Your employer wants you to get vaccinated, but you have a qualifying religious or medical exception. What happens now?
If you really cannot get the vaccination, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations. You cannot be fired, but you have to do your part. You might be required to undergo regular COVID-19 tests and temperature screenings. Your employer can also force you to continue wearing a mask while your coworkers don’t have to. If you refuse, your employer can fire you.
In 2016, a Texas firefighter refused to get his TDAP vaccination for religious reasons. His department offered him the chance to move to code enforcement on a different shift or wear a mask and undergo tests. He refused and lost his job. He sued, but the U.S. Court of Appeals found for his employer saying the face mask requirement accommodated his religious beliefs.
There’s something else to consider. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that the average hospitalization for COVID-19 is just over $24,000. In June and July alone, there were more than 110,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults.
The cost of that care is well over $2 billion, which is leading to discussions by health insurance companies of refusing to cover some medical treatments if a person skipped the free COVID-19 vaccination without having a valid reason. If you do not have a medical or religious exception, it may be in your best interest to get vaccinated.
Can anyone force you? No, but you must weigh the possible implications. You may not feel it’s fair to be forced, but people need to get their COVID shot to prevent additional variants.
What Do You Do Next?
So, your employer requires all workers to get the vaccination, but you’re against it. You need to provide the reason to your human resources department. At this point, your HR department will offer accommodations. You may need to undergo regular testing and wear a mask, and you might be transferred to a department where it’s easier for social distancing. Your transfer has to keep you at the same rate of pay.
What do you do if you’re offered a lower-paying job? Find out why. Companies are required to do their best to accommodate you, but it’s not always an option. Hardship is an exception for your employer. If moving you to a new department or requiring regular tests or mask-wearing will affect the business, the company has the right to fire you. Often, a calm discussion is all it takes to avoid these issues.
When do you call an attorney that specializes in employment law? If you’ve been fired and have a valid reason for refusing the vaccine, you may have a case. As consultations with Shegerian Conniff are free, it doesn’t hurt to discuss your situation. We’ll let you know your rights and what steps to take next.