Major American companies including Disney, Google and Netflix are asking their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination as the delta variant spreads across the U.S.
This begs the question, can my employer make me get vaccinated?
The short answer is: yes. And here’s why.
The government-run U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that it is legal under federal law for companies to require their workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with a few exceptions related to other health complications, pregnancy, religious beliefs and other reasonable accommodations.
And over the past few weeks, a growing number of companies including United UAL, -2.46% and the Alphabet-owned GOOGL, +0.87% Google GOOG, +0.70% have asked their employees to get vaccinated before returning to work. This applies to many positions that require employees to show up in-person, although that isn’t always the case. Walmart WMT, +0.24% has asked all corporate employees to get vaccinated, for example, but store cashiers are not currently required to get the shots.
In response, some employees have filed lawsuits against their companies for making them get vaccinated. But such contentions are “not very strong legal arguments,” Allison Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, recently claimed.
And that’s because companies and government organizations have been requiring various vaccinations for years, dating back to the 1905 Supreme Court Ruling Jacobson v. Massachusetts. U.S. school boards, as well as the U.S. military members, can also require various vaccinations in order to participate. “The justification for allowing employers to mandate vaccinations is based upon the logical and strong premise that unvaccinated employees present a ‘direct threat’ to others in the workplace,” writes to the National Law Review.
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In fact, if an employee is fired over not complying with their company’s COVID-19 vaccine policy — such as the three CNN employees who were let go last week — they may not be able to collect unemployment.
“Typically, an employee who is terminated for failing to comply with company policies is not eligible for unemployment benefits, which would include refusing to comply with a company’s COVID-19 prevention policies, masking requirements or vaccine requirements,” Alana Ackels, a labor and employment lawyer at Bell Nunnally, a Dallas-based law firm told MarketWatch.
It’s also worth noting that an employer asking about vaccination status and/or mandating vaccinations is not a violation of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). “If an employer asks an employee to provide proof that they have been vaccinated, that is not a HIPAA violation, and employees may decide whether to provide that information to their employer,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Workers can get one of the two-shot COVID vaccines developed by Pfizer PFE, +2.02% with German partner BioNTech BNTX, +14.97%, or Moderna MRNA, +17.10%, or one shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ, +0.35% vaccine.
The number of U.S. companies mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for workers is likely only going to get bigger as cases of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continue to rise. The daily average of COVID cases in the U.S. now tops 100,000, marking highest level since February.