Should Employers Mandate COVID-19 Vaccine?

As more and more workers are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, some employers are asking what that means for their workplace.


Obviously, no one has litigated the question of whether employers can require employees to get the vaccine when they are eligible. But all indications are that yes, you will be able to require employees receive the coronavirus vaccine—other vaccines like shingles or tetanus, maybe not, but coronavirus, generally, yes because of its larger impact and transmissibility in the workplace. If you have a unionized workforce, the collective bargaining agreement might apply to determine whether you can require those workers to receive it.


Also, if an employee asserts a religious exemption or claims a disability exemption to a mandatory vaccine policy, you need to engage in the interactive process and discuss reasonable accommodations of either issue. Our office can assist in dealing with such situations if need be.


As the old adage goes, just because you can, does it mean you should? That is a decision for you and others at your workplace to make based on your company’s unique culture, work environment, and workforce. If you require employees to get it, obviously you have to pay for it (but so far, it has been provided by the federal government for free), plus pay wages for the employee’s time to get it.


Schwartz Semerdjian Cauley & Evans LLP recommends that, at a minimum, you encourage employees to get it, for their personal safety as well as the impact it will have on your workplace. Studies show that vaccinated workers will be more than 90% less likely to become sick from COVID-19, which will impose fewer costs from absences or lost productivity and make workplace outbreaks less likely, making it more likely that your business can stay open.


Once employees are vaccinated, we still will not be able to be back to normal quite yet. Cal/OSHA has issued temporary standards for all California workplaces which, among other things, require employees to wear face coverings when on the job unless the employee is alone in a room, eating, or unable to do so for disability-related reasons. Cal/OSHA’s temporary rules also require employees to physically separate from other persons by at least six feet, except where impossible or for momentary exposure while persons are in movement. These and other requirements are likely to stay in place for a while, but the more people who are vaccinated, the sooner Cal/OSHA may lift some of these temporary requirements.


If you have any questions about any of these issues, feel free to contact Kevin Cauley, Kristen Bush, or Sarah Evans at Schwartz Semerdjian, 619.236.8821.

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