Some Employers Require COVID-19 Vaccine for New Hires

The request is legal, although some employees don’t like it.

April 27, 2021

Man gets the COVID-19 Vaccine

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As the U.S. job market comes back to life, many employers are requiring new hires to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Whether it’s operating a forklift in Kentucky, working in a Houston office or serving diners in New York City, many employers say that candidates must be vaccinated or be willing to get their COVID-19 shot within 30 days of hire.

Currently, it’s tough to determine how many U.S. employers now require vaccines. Originally, companies were reluctant to require the shots because supplies were scare, and many businesses were concerned about pushback from their workers and their attorneys.

The latest federal data show that around 50% of American adults have had at least one shot, and vaccines are now open to all adults in the U.S. As a result, some employers feel more comfortable requiring the shot. Polls suggests that part of the population remains hesitant because of the vaccines’ possible side effects or a mistrust of drugmakers or the government.

The Houston Methodist Hospital network is mandating vaccines for both existing employees and new hires, barring an exemption. Anyone who doesn’t comply will at first be suspended without pay and later terminated, a hospital spokeswoman said. “We saw this as a must-do,” Dr. Marc L. Boom, the hospital network’s chief executive, said of the decision to require vaccination.

Companies can legally require vaccines as a condition of employment, though they must accommodate religious beliefs or medical conditions that may keep workers from getting shots, said Kevin Troutman, a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP who leads the firm’s vaccine work group. Employers can legally request proof of vaccination, though bosses run legal risks if they probe the reasons behind a worker’s hesitancy to get the shot.

“The enforcement process can be pretty complicated,” Troutman said, though companies often give employees advanced notice for compliance. “I’m beginning to see a slow movement of more employers looking to require it.”

A session at the NACS HR Forum in March addressed the legal issues surround COVID-19 in the workplace, including the issue of vaccinations.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance indicating that employers can require most of their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to ensure a safe workplace, with certain exceptions. The commission noted that although the Americans with Disabilities Act limits an employer’s ability to require employees to undergo a medical examination unless job-related and a business necessity, receiving a vaccine doesn’t constitute a medical exam. Read the full EEOC guidance document here. In addition, NACS legal counsel Steptoe & Johnson has online resources on COVID-19, including vaccine requirements.

At meatpacking giant JBS USA Holdings, a range of job openings at the company’s Colorado headquarters, including those for a fixed-asset accountant, environmental manager and corporate communications specialist, state that it is a “job expectation” that new employees have at least one vaccine dose to start work.

President Biden has called on all companies—big and small—to offer paid time off for employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine or recover from any side effects, and he laid out details of a tax credit to help small businesses afford such leave.

As NACS Daily reported in March, NACS supports the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination (VCV), which helps promote nationwide public service announcements to encourage full vaccination. The PSAs end with a simple and direct call to action: “Don’t wait. Vaccinate.”

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