The Intersection Between COVID-19 Vaccines and Employment Law
On December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its ongoing COVID-19 technical assistance guidance with nine (9) new questions-and-answers dealing specifically with COVID-19 vaccinations. Although EEOC guidance does not have the full force and effect of law, it is nevertheless very important for employers to be aware of the Commission’s enforcement priorities as they relate to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Genetic Information Discrimination Act (“GINA”) and other federal civil rights laws.
The EEOC guidance follows the highly publicized vaccination of Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse who, on December 14th, became the first person in the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccination process is now under way, with initial focus on healthcare personnel, workers in essential and critical industries, people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions and people 65 years and older.
The following issues are implicated by the availability of COVID-19 vaccines:
- Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated for COVID-19?
- Can an employer ask employees COVID-19-related health questions?
- How should an employer respond to an employee who declines to be vaccinated for religious reasons?
- What ADA accommodation rights does an employee have with respect to COVID-19 vaccines?
- What privacy rights do employees have with respect to the vaccination process?
- What rights do employees have under GINA with respect to COVID-19 vaccines?
- Must employers require employees who have been vaccinated to wear masks and practice social distancing?
- What other federal and state laws are implicated by COVID-19 vaccines?
- In addition to the EEOC’s recent guidance on vaccines, there are other ongoing COVID-19 related issues of great significance, including mask requirements, social distancing requirements, leave of absence rights, telecommuting, etc.
Recognizing the time-sensitivity and liability concerns surrounding employer oversight of COVID-19 vaccines, Smith & Downey sponsored a webinar addressing best practices for dealing with vaccinations and other COVID-19-related workplace concerns.