Answering your COVID questions: Can employers require workers to get vaccinated?

Generally speaking, yes, but there are exceptions
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Posted at 11:01 AM, May 21, 2021

Can your employer require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine? The short answer is yes, but there are some exceptions for medical and religious reasons.

There is no federal law prohibiting employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated, and companies can require proof of vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says whether a state, local government or employer requires or mandates vaccinations is a matter of state and other applicable law.

However, federal law allows for some vaccine exemptions. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) states “an employee may be entitled to an exemption based on an ADA disability that prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine.” Those who may be at risk of having an adverse reaction because of an allergy to one of the vaccine components could also request an exemption.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also gives workers the right to seek a vaccine exception based on religious beliefs.

One law that doesn’t apply is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. While some believe HIPAA protects employees from disclosing their vaccination status, the law generally applies to health insurance plans and providers -- as the act’s name suggests -- not employers.

How likely is it that your employer will require you to get the shot? Out of 1,339 American and British companies surveyed by Arizona State University and the Rockefeller Foundation last month, nearly nine out of 10 plan to “encourage or require” employees to get vaccinated.

Of the companies who responded, 60% also plan to require proof of vaccination, and 59% plan to incentivize getting the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the CDC advises ADA-covered employers to “consider simply encouraging employees” to get the vaccine instead of requiring them to take it.