Question: Have there been times in the past when compulsory vaccinations were considered legal?
A. Yes, there are precedents for mandatory vaccination in the workplace. When the F1N1 pandemic influenza hit in 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is enforcing federal laws making workplace discrimination illegal, advised employers that compulsory vaccination was legal.
Although the EEOC did not specifically approve mandatory workplace vaccinations for COVID-19, it confirmed the “principles” it developed during the F1H1 pandemic in an update it posted on its website earlier this year in response to published the coronavirus outbreak.
Question: Has the EEOC recognized exceptions to mandatory vaccinations?
A. Yes, it cited the American with Disabilities Act for exemptions for employees who refuse the vaccine on medical grounds and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for exemptions for employees with religious reasons.
Question: How should employers deal with those who reject the vaccine for medical or religious reasons?
A. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation for employees who raise a medical objection to the vaccine, such as: B. Permission to work from home or otherwise separate from other employees. However, an employer can refuse such accommodation if it considers it “undue hardship”. Employers can require those who cite a medical reason to document their disability.
The standard for religious exceptions is a “sincere religious belief” rather than personal or ethical objections such as an anti-vaccination position.
Question: Is there any reason to believe that the EEOC treats COVID-19 vaccinations differently?
On a. The coronavirus is much more deadly than the 2009 H1N1 flu, so compulsory vaccinations for COVID-19 may be the norm.
Question: So the EEOC is in favor of compulsory flu vaccinations?
A. No, in fact, the EEOC prefers employers who promote flu vaccinations rather than requiring them, which may also be the approach to COVID-19. The EEOC argues that employers are more likely to vaccinate employees with incentives such as gift cards and refreshments in on-site mini clinics than with negative incentives such as resignation.
Question: Does the state have a say in compulsory vaccinations?
A. The EEOC says that employer-mandated vaccination programs must be consistent with state law.
Question: Is there a law in Massachusetts getting in the way?
On a. Indeed, last summer the Baker administration showed its support for vaccinations in general when the Department of Health, which has the power to determine what vaccinations are required for school enrollment, ordered that almost all students in the state under the age of 30 Years you will receive a seasonal flu vaccine by the end of this year. This made Massachusetts the first state in the country to do so. The aim was to reduce the overall burden on the health system by reducing the incidence of flu. Enforcement is in the hands of local school districts and higher education institutions.
Massachusetts has the highest flu vaccination rate in the country for anyone under the age of 17, with around 81 percent receiving the vaccine during the 2018-2019 flu season.
Question: What do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about vaccines in the workplace?
A. The CDC is committed to helping employers provide free seasonal flu shots on-site at work. There is no similar case for workplace vaccinations against COVID-19, but that could change.
Question: Doesn’t it make sense to require frontline health workers and others to be vaccinated?
A. Probably. An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently put healthcare workers, including those in hospitals and nursing homes, high on its list for risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19. It said, “Early protection of health workers is critical to maintaining the ability to care for patients with COVID-19 or other diseases.”
There are precedents for mandatory vaccination of health care workers. For example, Mass General Brigham already requires all employees, including those who work remotely, to get a seasonal flu vaccine unless they are cleared for a medical or religious dispensation.
The CDC has made these comprehensive guidelines available to employers and others on flu vaccine implementation.
Question: What other types of workplaces can be subject to mandatory vaccinations?
A. First responders and retail and service workers who interact with the public.
Q. Can I refuse to work with others in my workplace if they haven’t received the vaccine?
A. Employers are required by OSHA to provide a workplace that is free from major identified hazards, including COVID-19. You have the right to contact OSHA without fear of retaliation if you have any concerns. Note, however, that OSHA announced last spring that it would leave employers to investigate some complaints while keeping few inspections in progress.
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