One of the biggest challenges of the past year for employers has been keeping up with the complex and constantly evolving employment law issues that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines has been a welcome relief for employers hoping to create safe and productive workplaces, but issues related to vaccines create a new set of questions.
One of the most common is whether employers can inquire about whether their employees have been vaccinated. Employers are wise to seek legal counsel regarding this issue, as any medical inquiry by an employer could give rise to legal risks. In this case, one of the main risks is that such an inquiry could be interpreted as a prohibited disability inquiry under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
As with most legal issues, this one is nuanced. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance stating that a mere inquiry of vaccination status does not constitute a disability-related inquiry under the ADA. The EEOC explains that there are many reasons that may explain why an employee has not been vaccinated, which may or may not be disability-related. Therefore, pursuant to the guidance, “simply requesting proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not likely to elicit information about a disability and, therefore, is not a disability-related inquiry.”
However, the guidance suggests that delving further into vaccination status may be problematic. For example, asking why an employee did not receive a vaccination may elicit information about a disability. Such follow-up questions could implicate the ADA and must be considered in light of the ADA’s framework that requires such inquiries to be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
The EEOC’s guidance on these issues is just that—guidance—and it is subject to change. As with any workplace policy, before establishing rules concerning vaccines, employers should consult legal counsel in order to understand their rights and responsibilities. If you have any questions about these issues, please contact Klint Kesto or your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.
Fraser Trebilcock attorney and former Michigan State Legislator Klint Kesto has nearly two decades of experience working in both the public and private sectors. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517.377.0868.