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EEOC Permits Employers to Require Covid-19 Vaccination for Employment

Employers can legally require that employees provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. Bonnie Jacobson alleges that Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn, New York terminated her employer after she requested time to review the vaccine’s potential impact on fertility. The restaurant mandated vaccination for employees in April 2021. Red Hook Tavern denies any wrongdoing.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s ruling comes at a critical time as 43% of the nation’s employers have stated they are still determining whether to require Covid vaccination. 48% of employers have already declined to impose such a mandate.

Pregnancy DiscriminationEEOC Logo

Experts believe the currently authorized Covid-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose specific risks to pregnant people. However, the CDC admits that “the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women.” If employers mandate vaccinations for their staff, inevitably some questions will arise regarding the risk that the vaccine may have on pregnant women.

Inevitably, some accommodations have to made. If employers can permit a pregnant woman to work from home in lieu of having a Covid vaccination, the employee should be permitted to work from home. On the other hand, time will likely make Covid vaccinations safer – any lingering doubts about health risks may be set aside as more studies are conducted and more people are vaccinated. This is a process that will require cooperation from both employers and employees alike.

Religious or Disability Exemption

Mandatory Covid vaccinations in the workplace may lead to another fight in religious discrimination cases. Some faiths may oppose vaccinations (generally) because of diet restrictions, sexual activity concerns, and/or other reasons. As with all vaccinations, government officials will attempt to have as much vaccination coverage among the population as possible. Certain religious groups can fight for an exemption to vaccination as an accommodation for their religious beliefs. However, such accommodations may leave the country vulnerable to further Covid exposure, especially the communities that refuse vaccinations.

Disability discrimination is more straightforward. Although employer mandated medical examinations are restricted, the EEOC has determined that information regarding vaccinations are not medical examinations. Such requirements would not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In both types of cases though, an employer may refuse an accommodation if it poses an undue hardship on the employer. With regard to Covid vaccinations, this would likely mean determining whether the employer can let the exempted employee work from home or another means of ensuring that other employees, contractors, or customers will not be exposed to Covid-19.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The EEOC does not represent employees even if it has the power to bring such cases to court. A local employment lawyer can help an employee navigate the complex bureaucracy surrounding anti-discrimination law.


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