By Jack Tuckner, Esq.
Generally speaking, yes, your employer can require a COVID-19 vaccination before permitting you to return to work. Most employees in the United States are so-called at-will, which means employers can set conditions of employment, and certainly can set conditions of employment around health and safety issues. Now the few exceptions, really two exceptions to that mandatory vaccination policy are in the disability and the religious realm. If you have a bona fide disability, some type of impairment, allergy, you’re undergoing a certain treatment, If you really should not be taking the vaccine for medical reasons and a healthcare provider will support that, then your employer has to engage in what’s called an interactive process with you, a conversation that leads to a reasonable accommodation analysis of your request for an exemption based on your disability, and your employer may say, “Okay, got it! You, if you don’t want to get the vaccine, all you need to do is every week, get a COVID test. Give us the results before you get back Monday morning, wear a mask at all times in the workplace, and social distance from your coworkers, If you’re willing and able to do that, that would be your out from the mandatory requirement to take a vaccine. But of course, the employer would only need to do that if you presented the employer with this legitimate showing of a disability that would preclude you medically from taking the vaccine.
The second potential exemption is in the religious realm under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In other words, if you have a sincerely held religious belief that would preclude you from taking the vaccine, you would have to demonstrate that in one form or another. Now, it’s trickier because most major organized religions don’t have a blanket prohibition against vaccines. And in New York, for example, this exemption has been eliminated altogether for any kind of healthcare industry employee right now.
So, to have your clergy write a letter in support of your sincerely held religious belief that would prohibit you from taking a covid vaccination might be a higher or a steeper row to hoe because it often only takes a representation that it’s against my religious values. And that certainly may not be enough under the current situation in the public health crisis this country is still undergoing.
If you have your own question about your employers mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy, and you want to chat about it with us in complete confidence to see how we may assist and empower you, please call email or text us. And we will arrange to offer you a no-charge case evaluation at a mutually convenient time. This is Jack Tuckner with the firm of Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock and Sipser, an employee rights firm based in New York.