A key federal agency said this week that employers can legally require their workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine and prevent them from entering their workplaces if they refuse.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in guidance issued Wednesday said that requiring a test would not violate the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The law bars employers from requiring medical exams such as blood tests that seek information on an employee’s physical or mental condition, but the EEOC said a COVID-19 vaccine does not fall under that category.
“If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status and, therefore, it is not a medical examination,” the commission said.
“There are many reasons that may explain why an employee has not been vaccinated, which may or may not be disability-related,” it added.
Public health experts have said they predict employers will play a key role in helping bring the nation to a critical degree of widespread immunity as vaccines become more widely available. Two vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and another from Moderna, have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is anticipated to greenlight the administration of the Moderna vaccine in the coming days.
Still, even with permission from the EEOC, employers must be cautious about any information that may be gleaned from prescreening questions, which the government said must be “job related and consistent with business necessity.”
A requirement for employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine could play an important role in combating what experts say is an alarmingly high rate of skepticism toward the shot.
While vaccines are considered one of the most crucial tools to finally reduce the spread of the disease, a Gallup survey last month found that just 58 percent of Americans said they would receive a vaccine.
To boost public confidence in a shot, Vice President Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams all received the Pfizer shot on live television this week, and President-elect Joe Biden will do the same next week.
While the vaccines provide a light at the end of the tunnel, the nation is still heading into what is anticipated to be the deadliest phase of the virus before they are widely available in the spring and summer. Public health experts have expected a spike in cases to emerge following Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the country has at times reported more than 3,000 deaths in a single day.