Can You Require Your Employees to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

From a legal standpoint, there isn’t a clear-cut answer, but it’s a reality that all employers will have to face when establishing a policy for their workforce

Can You Require Your Employees to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

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Across the nation, COVID-19 vaccinations are being distributed slowly but surely, with the promise of wider vaccine availability in the months to come. Generally, there is one thing that doctors and researchers agree on: The more people who get the vaccine, the more effective it will be; and thus, the faster we can get out of this pandemic.

But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of vaccine policy, there are still a lot of tough questions before us. For example, as an employer, are you allowed to mandate that your employees receive the vaccine?

The notion of requiring vaccinations is not new. School children must show proof that they have obtained certain shots, and travelers to international countries are often obligated to get certain inoculations. But what about your workforce? The simple reality is that the COVID-19 vaccine is still quite new and untested in the courts. Legal ethicists have not reached a concrete conclusion about the legality of workplace vaccine mandates.

One thing to note is that, according to the FDA, recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine are required to be informed that they may decline the shot if they wish. In other words, everyone has the legal right to say no to a COVID-19 vaccine. But of course, that isn’t really the question. The question is: Do people who refuse the vaccine still have a right to work?

Generally speaking, the law allows plenty of leeway for employers, particularly private employers. And historically, there have been instances in which employers have been given legal standing to require certain types of inoculations, particularly against influenza. But again, there are still a lot of unanswered questions and no consensus view about employer vaccine mandates.

There are a couple of wrinkles in this topic, the first being the need for exemptions. Legally, employers who do mandate vaccines must be willing to provide exemptions for any employees who are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and whose disability prohibits them from getting vaccinated for any reason. There is also the issue of religious freedom: Employees with sincerely held religious convictions against vaccination may be permitted exemptions, though the courts will certainly have some challenges as they seek to determine what does and does not qualify as sincerely held religious belief. A good rule of thumb is that employees seeking a religious exemption should show that they belong to a faith tradition with a documented stance against vaccines; simply having a personal, private opinion about vaccines is insufficient here.

One more note: Employers may worry about the legal fallout of requiring vaccines, but they should also take into account the opposite problem. Some legal experts say that, without having a sound vaccine policy in place, employers could open themselves up to legal challenges, specifically related to OSHA violations. In other words, employers need to do their due diligence to maintain a safe work environment, and COVID-19 vaccines are definitely a part of that.

Answers don’t come easy, but already we are seeing some companies stake out a middle ground. For example, Target and Kroger have both chosen to incentivize employees to get vaccinated, rather than penalize the ones who don’t. For example, Target offers additional pay, time off, and transportation benefits to employees who opt to get vaccinated.

This may be an option for your business to consider. While there are no clear solutions here, one thing is pretty obvious: Employers cannot ignore the new realities of the workforce. It’s crucial to develop policies to protect your employees and your customers. There isn’t one “right” way to approach vaccines, but it’s crucial to prove due diligence.

About the Author: Amanda E. Clark is the president and editor-in-chief of Grammar Chic, a full-service professional writing company. She is a published ghostwriter and editor, and she's currently under contract with literary agencies in Malibu, California and Dublin. Since founding Grammar Chic in 2008, Clark, along with her team of skilled professional writers, has offered expertise to clients in the creative, business and academic fields. The company accepts a wide range of projects; often engages in content and social media marketing; and drafts resumes, press releases, web content, marketing materials and ghostwritten creative pieces. Contact Clark at


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