2021 is now here and with it brings some hope to control the COVID-19 pandemic with the countrywide rollout of vaccines. This is a great opportunity for employers to begin considering whether and how to return their employees to the office. But wait! It’s not that simple. Employers first need to ensure compliance with applicable federal, state and local employment laws when considering employee vaccinations.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if an employee refuses to be vaccinated for religious reasons or if they have a disability, employers may not be able to automatically terminate them before first conducting an individualized assessment that considers whether the unvaccinated employee would pose a direct threat due to a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC posted an updated and expanded technical assistance publication addressing questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic under the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws.
One of the issues the guidance does not address is whether an employee’s fear or concern about whether the vaccine is safe or not should be considered when deciding whether a reasonable accommodation should be considered.
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