Can My Employer Force Me to Get a Vaccination?

Question: I’ve been hearing about employers requiring a COVID vaccination in order to come back to work – or remain employed. Can they do that?

Answer: The short answer is yes. Private employers can put conditions on workers that include mandating vaccines. With the exception of a disability or (doctor-proven) medical condition or religious exemption, you don’t have the right to decline a vaccine that is a condition of employment. You’ll also have to wear a mask if your employer mandates it.

In addition to making employees and customers feel safe, employers are trying to reduce liability they may incur if they allow an unvaccinated worker to spread the virus to vulnerable people. Of course, vaccinated people can still get sick and spread the virus, but the company will be deemed to have taken reasonable precautions to prevent serious illness. Industries such as the military, healthcare, and food service have had mandatory vaccine requirements for decades.

Companies can require you to declare your vaccination status and ask you to produce proof. This kind of requirement is not unprecedented; many companies require you to submit to drug screening before hiring and may require random tests during your employment.

Companies who don’t decide to mandate vaccines may have a stick to use to encourage them anyway. Employment law experts are seeing interest in adding health benefit premium surcharges for unvaccinated employments – the number could be as high as $50 per paycheck. HR consultants are seeing interest in this idea from clients in manufacturing, retail, hospitality, financial services and other sectors. 

The vaccines have been proven to reduce the risk of severe illness (if not all illness) and hospitalization, so it makes sense for an employer to try to minimize the chances that a valuable employee will miss work for an extended period, if at all possible.

A CBS news article online reminds us that “There’s precedent for raising insurance premiums on individuals who are deemed a greater health risk. Take smokers, who are more likely to die of cancer and tend to face higher health costs than nonsmokers.”

Insurance companies have long factored personal decisions about your own health and safety into financial decisions about premium rates. Motorcycle owners pay higher insurance premiums than car drivers, because the risk is higher. (Someone riding a motorcycle is 5 times more likely to be injured and 29 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than someone driving a car.)  If you install a home security system, your homeowner’s insurance rates will be lowered.

For what it’s worth, about half of U.S. workers favor mandates. A recent CNN article says: “Slightly more than half of US workers favor Covid-19 vaccine mandates in their workplaces, new polling finds, although far fewer have seen such requirements implemented by their employers.

A 55% majority of Americans who are employed full-time, part-time or are self-employed say they’d support their employer requiring all employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, while 44% are opposed, according to an Axios/Ipsos survey released this week.”

Most analysts believe these policies will start to gain momentum from both large and small employers as soon as the vaccines get final approval (as opposed to the current Emergency Use Authorization) from the FDA, which is expected to come as early as September for the Pfizer vaccine.

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