Date: March 25, 2021
CBS 6 News interviewed TELG’S Scott Oswald about whether employers can require in-person workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Scott explained that such requirements are generally legal — but noted that employees with certain concerns, especially health-based concerns, should ask for accommodation.
Accommodating an employee with valid vaccine concerns "doesn’t mean that they have to bring that employee into the workplace."
R. Scott Oswald
Can your boss mandate you get a COVID vaccine? The answer might surprise you.
IMPORTANT: COVID-19 guidelines are subject to change. For a reliable, up-to-date look at how the pandemic is affecting workplace laws and rules, our firm recommends that you review the “What You Should Know” page maintained by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
(Transcribed by The Employment Law Group)
Brendan King (reporter): As of Thursday, 2.1 million Virginians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But I wanted to know: Can your boss require you to get a shot in the arm?
Megan Healy: We hope that everyone wants to get vaccinated.
King: Governor Northam’s chief workforce advisor, Dr. Megan Healy, calls that answer complicated.
Healy: Can or can they not? I think there’s law on both sides of that issue, so we really encourage them, if they are going to mandate it, to seek legal counsel.
King: She says you can refuse your dose based on your religious beliefs or if the vaccine would adversely impact a medical condition.
Healy: To return to work or to be on the frontline, the employer can ask if someone’s been vaccinated, and that’s validated. If an employee or worker says, “no, I haven’t,” that’s when you kind of move into that American Disability Act because that discloses some potential health condition that a worker does not have to disclose to their employer.
R. Scott Oswald: You know, we got a ton of calls back in March and April, and employees were scared.
King: Scott Oswald serves as managing principal of The Employment Law Group based in D.C. He argues the law tilts towards the employer.
Oswald: Ultimately, if it is a position where the essential function of the job requires that employee’s attendance, physical presence at the employer’s work site, the employer can require those employees to be vaccinated.
King: However, he encourages companies to work with their employees before issuing any mandates. Give your staff incentives to get a vaccine, or can that employee work on other duties?
Oswald: And that employer generally must accommodate that employee to the extent that the employer can. That doesn’t mean that they have to bring that employee into the workplace.
King: The experts say communication between manager and employee is paramount. You could provide your manager with a doctor’s note explaining your condition, but most importantly, communicate your limitations with your employer as soon as possible and put it in writing.
Working for you in Richmond, I’m Brendan King, CBS 6 News.