WASHINGTON—Under federal law, U.S. employers can require all of their employees who physically enter the workplace to be inoculated against COVID-19 as long as they provide reasonable accommodations, and they can encourage vaccination with incentives that aren’t coercive, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in updated guidance Friday.
Employers still must “comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations,” the agency said. “Other laws, not in EEOC’s jurisdiction, may place additional restrictions on employers. From an EEO perspective, employers should keep in mind that because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement,” the EEOC stated.
The EEOC noted that it would be unlawful to apply a vaccination requirement in a way that treats employees differently based on disability, race, color, religion, sex, national origin or age. It also stated that state and local laws may also govern vaccination requirements.
Regarding incentives, the EEOC said that employers “administering vaccines to their employees may offer incentives for employees to be vaccinated, as long as the incentives are not coercive. Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information,” the agency said.
In December, NACS Daily reported that the EEOC said that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows , “managers and supervisors responsible for communicating with employees about compliance with the employer’s vaccination requirement should know how to recognize an accommodation request from an employee with a disability and know to whom the request should be referred for consideration.”
When it comes to an employee refusing the vaccination on religious grounds, the EEOC states, “once an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance prevents the employee from receiving the vaccination, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for the religious belief, practice, or observance unless it would pose an undue hardship under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”
Many major employers already offer bonuses to workers who take the shot, and some like GPM Investments are holding on-site vaccination clinics. As NACS Daily reported in February, Casey’s of Ankeny, Iowa, will provide a Wellness Bonus of $50 to team members who receive the full dosage. Love’s Travel Stops, based in Oklahoma City, offers all employees in the Love’s Family of Companies an extra $75 to voluntarily receive the vaccine. Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Target and Dollar General also offer enticements to team members.
On Wednesday, June 2, GPM Investments, a wholly owned subsidiary of ARKO Corp., is holding is a one-day COVID-19 vaccination walk-up clinic outside GPM’s fas Mart store in Gate City, Va., in partnership with the Lenowisco Health Department, which will administer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. The goal is to reach members of the community who may have experienced barriers receiving a vaccine at fixed sites, GPM said.
The EEOC said employers may provide employees and their family members information about the benefits of vaccines and how to obtain them and noting that the vaccines are available free of charge. The guidance update comes as more employees return to work sites, and separate federal agencies have said mask wearing isn’t required for vaccinated individuals.
On its website, the EEOC reports it has received numerous inquiries about vaccine requirements, including concerns that the three vaccines used in the U.S.—Johnson & Johnson, Modera and Pfizer-BioNTech—received authorization for emergency use as opposed to the traditional, lengthy approval process. The agency said decisions around whether the level of authorization creates a legal issue is “beyond the EEOC’s jurisdiction.”
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.