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EEOC Provides Updated Guidance Regarding Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Policies

Client Alert

On May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidance regarding employer COVID-19 vaccination policies. The new guidance provides much-needed clarification of expectations for employers seeking to promote workplace safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19, including discussion of mandatory vaccination policies, voluntary vaccination incentives, and accommodation of employees based on disability or sincerely held religious beliefs. The full text of the update is found in Section K of the EEOC’s COVID Q&A document. You can also learn more about these and other developments from BMD's Bryan Meek and Monica Andress through the Employment Law After Hours YouTube channel, available here.

Can employers require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, the EEOC guidance explains that federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring employees who are physically in the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Must employers make any exceptions to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy?

Yes, in certain cases, employees may be entitled to reasonable accommodation due to a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employee refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine based on a disability, the employer should engage in an interactive process to determine if accommodation is appropriate. If the employee has a qualifying disability that prevents vaccination, the employer should evaluate whether the unvaccinated employee is a direct threat to the safety of the workplace. This is a case-by-case determination that should consider such factors as the level of community spread of COVID-19 at that time, whether the employee works alone or in close proximity to others, frequency and duration of interactions with others, the extent of vaccination or mask-wearing in the workplace, and space available for social distancing.

If the unvaccinated employee poses a direct safety threat, the employer should then consider whether a reasonable accommodation would eliminate the threat. Accommodations could include permitting the unvaccinated employee to wear a face mask, social distance from coworkers and others, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, telework, or accept a reassignment to a different position that alleviates the risk. If reasonable accommodation will not eliminate the direct safety threat, or it otherwise imposes an undue hardship based on cost or other factors, the employer would not need to provide an accommodation to the employee. 

Can employers provide incentives that encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, employers may offer incentives, including monetary incentives, to encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Note that if the vaccine is administered directly by the employer or its agent, the incentive must not be "so substantial as to be coercive." This limitation does not apply if the employee gets the vaccine on their own from a third party.

Can employers request documentation of vaccination from employees in connection with an incentive program?

Yes, an employer can make voluntary vaccination incentives contingent on the employee providing documentation verifying that they received the COVID-19 vaccine.
 

What other requirements should employers keep in mind related to COVID-19 vaccination policies?

  • Any documentation or information regarding an employee's vaccination, like any other medical information, must be kept confidential and stored separately from the employee’s personnel files.
  • Employer vaccine policies must comply with federal nondiscrimination laws, and such policies should not treat groups of employees differently based on protected categories, including race, national origin, color, sex, religion, age, or disability.
  • If an employee is fully vaccinated and still requests an accommodation because of risks related to COVID-19 (e.g., due to being immunocompromised), the employer should treat it like any other accommodation request, engage in the interactive process, and explore potential reasonable accommodations.

The BMD Employment and Labor Law Practice Group will keep you updated as further developments arise, and we are available to assist if you have questions regarding COVID-19 employment policies and practices.

For more information, contact Labor and Employment Attorney Russell Rendall at rtrendall@bmdllc.com or (216) 658-2205.


The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board’s Latest Batch of Rules: What Providers Should Know

The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board has introduced new rules and amendments, covering various aspects such as CDCA certificate requirements, expanded services for LCDCs and CDCAs, remote supervision, and reciprocity application requirements. Notable changes include revised criteria for obtaining a CDCA certification, expanded services for LCDCs and CDCAs, and updated ethical obligations for licensees and certificate holders, including non-discrimination, confidentiality, and anti-sexual harassment measures.

Governor Mike DeWine and The Ohio State University Introduce the SOAR Study on Ohio Mental Illness

On January 19, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and The Ohio State University announced a new research initiative, the State of Ohio Adversity and Resilience (“SOAR”) study, which will investigate all factors influencing Ohio’s mental illness and addiction epidemic.

CHANGING TIDES: Summary and Effects of Burnett et. al. v. National Ass’n of Realtors, et. al.

In April 2019, a class-action Complaint was filed in federal court for the Western District Court for Missouri arguing that the traditional payment agreements employed by many across the United States amounted to conspiracy resulting in the artificial increase in brokerage commissions. Plaintiffs, a class-action group comprised of sellers, argued that they paid excessive brokerage commissions upon the sale of their home as a result of the customary payment structure where Sellers agree to pay the full commission on the sale of their property, with Seller’s agent notating the portion of commission they are willing to pay to a Buyer’s agent at closing on the MLS or other similar system.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy’s Latest Batch of Rules: What Providers Should Know

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy released several new rules and proposed amendments to existing rules over the past month that will significantly impact pharmacy operations. Topics range from updates to the Terminal Distributor of Dangerous Drugs license to mobile clinics to mandatory rest breaks for pharmacists of outpatient pharmacies. A summary of the proposed changes is below, along with instructions for commenting on the rules. Your BMD healthcare attorney can help write comment letters and submit the comments on your behalf as well.

Employee or Independent Contractor? New Guidance Issued by the Department of Labor

On January 9, 2024, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued its long-awaited final rule — effective March 11, 2024 — revising its prior interpretation of worker classifications under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The new final rule rescinds the standard previously established in 2021, in turn, shifting the analysis of whether a worker is an employee (versus an independent contractor) of a business from a more streamlined “economic reality” test to a more complex “totality of the circumstances” standard.