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Can your employer ask about your COVID-19 vaccine status? What about your family's?

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Posted at 6:25 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 20:22:58-04

CINCINNATI — Your vaccine status is your boss’ business, according to the United States Equal Opportunity Commission — and that’s true regardless of whether the vaccine is for COVID-19, the flu or something else. It’s legal for employers to require their workers to get certain vaccinations, provided they also give leeway for medical and religious exemptions.

But what about workers’ families? We asked longtime employment-discrimination attorney Donyetta Bailey: How far does an employer's right to know extend?

“An employer can make you get a vaccine, and they can also require proof you and your family members get the vaccine,” Bailey said.

It’s a complex situation made more so by the existence of GINA, the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. GINA protects genetic information and how it’s shared, and the EEOC has determined it covers COVID-19 testing.

The commission therefore opposes companies asking for COVID-19 test results from workers’ families.

However, Bailey sees less protection for vaccination status. The commission wrote on May 28, 2021 — in section K.15 of this long FAQ — that “an employer requiring an employee to show documentation or other confirmation of vaccination from a doctor, pharmacy, or other third party is not using, acquiring, or disclosing genetic information.”

Bailey said GINA doesn’t apply if the genes themselves aren’t part of the question.

“The only thing that GINA covers is an employer’s ability to obtain and use genetic information for you as an employee or your family member,” Bailey said. “It’s not considered a medical inquiry under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well.”

Exceptions to vaccine mandates apply to people with disabilities, women who are pregnant or nursing, and people with sincere religious beliefs that conflict with treatment.

For everyone else, the law is the law — unless, Bailey said, the EEOC guidance is successfully challenged in court.

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Senior Reporter Larry Seward is focusing his reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine to bring you answers and information. Contact Larry at 513-667-4804 or larry.seward@wcpo.com.