By Gary Evans, Medical Writer
On May 28, 2021 — the same date a lawsuit was filed by employees of Houston Methodist for its COVID-19 vaccination mandate — a leading federal employment discrimination agency said employers can require worker vaccinations with reasonable accommodations.
“The federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other EEO considerations discussed below,” read a post on the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).1
Although the issue of mandating COVID-19 vaccination of healthcare workers seems ultimately headed for the courts, the phrase “physically entering the workplace” is different from the “condition of employment” often used in employer policies.
Reasonable accommodations include allowing an appropriately exempted employee to wear a face mask, as has been done with flu vaccination in many facilities, the EEOC states.
Employees who are not vaccinated because of pregnancy may be entitled (under Title VII) to adjustments to keep working if the employer makes modifications or exceptions for other employees. These modifications may be the same as the accommodations made for an employee based on disability or religion.
Employers that have a vaccine requirement “may need to respond to allegations that the requirement has a disparate impact on — or disproportionately excludes — employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin under Title VII; or age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (40),” the EEOC states.
Employers should keep in mind that some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others and could be negatively affected by a mandate.
“It would also be unlawful to apply a vaccination requirement to employees in a way that treats employees differently based on disability, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national origin, age, or genetic information, unless there is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason,” the EEOC concluded.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What you should know about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO laws. Updated May 28, 2021. https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws