Some Employees Shy Away From COVID-19 Vaccine

If workers say no thanks to the coronavirus vaccine, can employers force the issue?

January 20, 2021

LOS ANGELES—While COVID-19 vaccines are being administered across the United States to targeted age groups and priority populations, some Americans are not eager to get the shot, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“My kids are everything to me, my classroom is everything, but I’m not going to take the vaccine,” said one Minnesota teacher, who said he’s up to date on other vaccines. “I don’t feel like I’m informed enough to make a smart decision.”

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed 27% of Americans have vaccine hesitation, expressing doubts about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Among health-care workers, that number jumps to 29%.

The issue of more than a quarter of U.S. residents who have said they will refuse a coronavirus vaccine has raised questions among employers, such as can they fire workers who don’t want to get vaccinated?

“It’s not cut and dry,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, professor of law and bioethics at the University of Alberta in Canada. “Not all vaccines are created equal, and not all diseases are created equal. It’s a very complex thing.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released guidance in December saying a business can implement a mandatory vaccination requirement if it’s related to the job or if being unvaccinated would directly impact other workers, customers or themselves. For example, a retailer could say front-line employees like cashiers are at risk because of daily interactions with customers, and therefore could be required to be vaccinated. Recently, legal experts also offered legal advice in the NACS Daily for employers facing this issue.

But many employers have indicated they won’t mandate vaccination as a condition of employment. Workers who can legally object to the vaccine include those with an established medical condition or disability and if vaccinations go against sincerely held religious beliefs.

Another way to win employee cooperation is through communication and incentives. For instance, Dollar General announced recently that it would pay workers to get vaccinated. “You have to have a good reason to give people about why it is ethically right for them to subject themselves to a vaccine they don’t want to get,” Ogbogu said.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.