Can Employers Require COVID-19 Vaccines?

By: Madison Davis, Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, madison@brisbanechamber.org, 415-467-7283

As healthcare providers begin to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, some employers may wonder whether they can require their employees to receive the vaccination. According to Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie based in Los Angeles, employers can require employees receive the vaccine if failure to do so presents a threat to others in the workplace due to the virus “being rampant and easily transmitted” in the work environment. The employer must make exceptions for those who have disabilities and cannot be vaccinated and those employees that hold religious beliefs that prevent them from doing do. Secular or medical beliefs do not need to be accommodated by employers.
The business sector should be considered when asking employees to vaccinate. For example, those in healthcare, those that work with the elderly or sensitive groups, those in travel, retail, or other frontline work environments may have a higher risk of contracting or spreading the virus and thus, a policy may make sense. However, workplaces that can sustain remote working may not want to create a vaccination requirement. Instituting a vaccination policy has the potential to cause backlash from employees.
As COVID-19 progresses, we will likely see issues litigated regarding this matter. For example, an employee who contracts COVID-19 could sue their employer for not creating a safe and healthy working environment as required by OSHA. On the other hand, an employee could also sue if they felt the policy was an overreach and other safety precautions could be instituted instead. Either way, the decisions in these cases would be ground-breaking. Later this year we will likely have more guidance for employers on this matter.
*The information included in the article was compiled through research and from sources we deem credible. However, we encourage you to discuss a vaccination policy with your legal team prior to instituting one in your business as this article is not meant to offer legal advice.