Workplace Vaccination Policies, and Other Protective Practices

With the impending flu season, and COVID-19 vaccines expected later this year or in early 2021, companies have begun reviewing their mandatory vaccination policies, or the possibility of creating one.  Some key factors to consider during this process include the following:

  1. The criteria must support the business need for the policy; i.e. there must be a reasonable belief that the employee’s ability to perform essential job duties will be impaired by a medical condition, or that it will pose a significant risk of substantial harm to workplace health or safety that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation.
  2. Collective Bargaining Agreements may limit an employer’s right to require vaccines.
  3. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that even during a pandemic, an employee may be entitled to an exemption from mandatory flu shot requirements based on an ADA-covered liability.
  4. The EEOC also requires employers to adequately inform their employees of the requirement, and to allow them to seek an exception/accommodation based on an ADA-covered disability, or sincerely held religious belief.
  5. Some states (like California and New York) may provide protections for employee objections based on the “anti-vax” movement.
  6. You must ensure the privacy of each employee’s vaccination information according to the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Other protective measures include providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), restructure placement of employee workstations, or teleworking.  More extreme measures for those at higher risk might include a temporary reassignment or a leave of absence.

In cases where an employee tests positive for COVID-19, employers should use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “6-15-48” guideline.  It will help the employer determine if other employees need to quarantine due to possible exposure to this co-worker.  This guideline refers to a person having been within six (6) feet of a confirmed infected person, for fifteen (15) minutes or more, within forty-eight (48) hours prior to the sick individual showing symptoms.  The employees who fall within this range should quarantine for no less than fourteen (14) days, regardless of whether a mask was worn around the infected person.  The first day of quarantine begins on the last day of exposure to the person who tested positive for the virus.