US Agency Says Employers Should Tread Carefully in Mandating COVID-19 Vaccines

By Daniel Wiessner

December 17, 2020

(Reuters) - The U.S. agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws said on Wednesday that employers who choose to require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 must be prepared to exempt employees with disabilities and religious objections.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued the guidance on its website after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech.

Many employers have said they are considering mandatory vaccines amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases that could lead to some businesses being shut down or limiting their operations.

The EEOC said companies that choose not to have vaccines administered at the workplace can require employees to provide proof that they received a vaccination without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But the law only permits employers to ask workers why they have refused to be vaccinated if the information is "job related and consistent with business necessity," the agency said.

Workers who refuse to be vaccinated because of medical conditions or religious beliefs cannot be excluded from the workplace, the EEOC said, unless an employer finds that there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Working from home, wearing a mask or being reassigned to a more secluded work area could all qualify as reasonable accommodations, depending on the circumstances.

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