Can Employers Require the COVID19 Vaccine?

On December 11, the COVID19 vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), giving medical centers across the U.S. the go ahead to roll out the first doses of the vaccine. The approval of the vaccine has sparked some controversy regarding the safety of the vaccinee; with some people cautious to take a vaccine that was subject to expedited testing and others eager to get the vaccine in hopes that it will help life go back to normal. As the vaccine becomes more readily available, employers will be faced with the decision of whether to require their employees to get the vaccine in order to continue employment. This decision will require employers to weigh workplace safety with employees’ individual choice to determine whether a requiring employee to take the vaccine is legal and in the best interest of the company.

Iowa is an at-will employment state, meaning that, with certain exceptions, most employment may be terminated at any time without cause. In an at-will employment state, an employer can set working conditions and implement requirements for employees to ensure those conditions are maintained, including requiring employees to be vaccinated.

There are exceptions to this general rule of at-will employment and an employer’s power to terminate employment without cause. With the distribution of the COVID19 vaccinee, there will be significant expectations for exceptions related to employees with disabilities or religious beliefs under The American Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A disability covered by the ADA may be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination requirement if it prevents an employee from safely receiving the vaccine. Under the ADA, employers must provide any reasonable accommodations that would not subject them to significant difficulty or expense. Depending on the job requirements, a reasonable accommodation for an employee covered by the ADA may include wearing a mask and other protective gear in the workplace or working remotely. Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires an employer who has received notice of a employees sincerely held religious belief preventing or limiting the use of vaccines to provide reasonable accommodations. With these restrictions, employers may want to use caution when implementing vaccine requirements and instead may decide to simply encourage employees to get the vaccine with the incentive to improve the stability and safety of the workplace.

Making decisions for your employees’ safety during a pandemic is difficult to navigate. The attorneys at Simpson, Jensen, Abels, Fisher & Bouslog, P.C. are experienced in handling complex business and employment issues. Contact us at (515) 288-5000 to discuss with our firm.

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