On May 28, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued new guidance for employers regarding employment vaccination programs. As discussed below, the EEOC’s updated guidance provides additional information concerning key issues such as whether:
- Employers may mandate vaccines
- An employee’s vaccination status is confidential medical information
- Employers may offer vaccination incentives to employees
Employer-Mandated Vaccination and Reasonable Accommodations
Under the EEOC guidance, employers may require all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other equal employment opportunity law considerations. The EEOC does not directly enforce state anti-discrimination laws, and this Guidance should not be interpreted as giving vaccination requirements a “pass” under Michigan civil rights and worker protection laws. Under federal law, “reasonable accommodations” for vaccine-sensitive or other “disabled” workers who cannot due to a disability be vaccinated, may include requiring unvaccinated employees to wear face masks and periodic testing for COVID-19.
The Guidance also explains that when implementing a vaccination policy, employers should be aware that, “because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.” Employers may not adopt vaccination policies that discriminate on the basis of a protected characteristic.
Voluntary Employer COVID-19 Vaccination Programs
The Guidance permits employers to adopt a voluntary COVID-19 vaccination policy as an alternative to a mandatory vaccination requirement. The ADA prohibits taking an adverse action against an employee for refusing to participate in a voluntary employer-administered vaccination program.
Employers may offer incentives for employees to receive vaccinations according to the EEOC. The EEOC requires that incentives offered by an employer not be “so substantial as to be coercive.”
However, the EEOC explained that federal equal employment opportunity laws do not prevent or limit employers from offering incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination obtained from a third party in the community, such as a pharmacy, personal health care provider, or public clinic.
Documentation of Vaccination Status
Under the Guidance, employers may request documentation of vaccination status but must keep vaccination information confidential, including ensuring that such information is kept separate from employees’ general personnel files.
EEOC guidance on COVID-19 vaccination issues for employers is complex and is likely to be further updated. In some cases, state and local requirements may differ from federal guidance. If you have questions about these issues, please contact Dave Houston or your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.
This alert serves as a general summary, and does not constitute legal guidance. All statements made in this article should be verified by counsel retained specifically for that purpose. Please contact us with any specific questions.
Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Dave Houston has over 40 years of experience representing employers in planning, counseling, and litigating virtually all employment claims and disputes including labor relations (NLRB and MERC), wage and overtime, and employment discrimination, and negotiation of union contracts. He has authored numerous publications regarding employment issues. You can reach him at 517.377.0855 or email@example.com.