Since the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations have begun distribution across the U.S., employees and employers have been anticipating guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on whether employers can require employees to be vaccinated. Based on the EEOC Guidance issued on December 16, 2020, an employee could be barred from the workplace, and possibly terminated, for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine once they are available. However, there are a few exemptions, and employers must first assess whether there are employee rights that apply.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) employees may be exempt if they cannot receive the vaccination due to medical reasons. In this case, employers must provide reasonable accommodations unless it amounts to undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). Reasonable accommodations could comprise of allowing the employee to work or continue to work remotely. If no reasonable accommodation exists and the employee poses a possible threat to themselves or others, then the employer may exclude the employee from the workplace. However, the employer cannot automatically terminate the employee because there may be applicable rights available to the employee under equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws or other federal, state, and local legal authorities.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and MHRA, employees who hold a sincerely held religious belief that taking the vaccine would violate may also be exempt. In this case, employers must again provide a reasonable accommodation for the sincerely held religious belief unless it poses undue hardship. Again, if no reasonable accommodation exists and the employee poses a direct safety threat to themselves or other employees then an employer may exclude the employee from the workplace. Like the ADA and MHRA exception, the employer cannot automatically terminate the employee, instead the employer must determine whether there are any applicable rights under EEO or other laws.
As employment issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continue to arise, we will stay up to date on any changes in the laws and regulations effecting employees.
Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers
The Minnesota employment lawyers of Wanta Thome PLC are committed to protecting the rights of all Minnesota employees. If you have questions about your coronavirus employment rights, contact us for a free initial consultation.