COVID-19 has dictated much of our daily activities over the last 20 months. It seems that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon neither is the vaccine mandate. Yesterday, President Biden’s administration fulfilled its promise that it would take more aggressive steps in getting more Americans vaccinated. The administration announced additional vaccine mandates affecting more than 100 million workers. In this article, I will explain what this mandate means for employees.
The purpose of the COVID-19 mandate is to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. This mandate does not apply to every company; instead, this mandate applies to private companies with 100 or more employees, healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid, and federal contractors. If you work at one of these entities or you are a federal contractor, this mandate applies to you. However, private companies with fewer than 100 employees may still mandate the vaccine as a condition of employment. One clear distinction of this mandate is that it does not apply to employees of a covered company who work exclusively outdoors, or from home.
The Vaccine Mandate
OSHA requires covered companies to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy. Companies are responsible for ensuring employees are fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022. Fully vaccinated means that employees must either take two doses of Pzifer or Moderna’s vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. If employees are not fully vaccinated by that time, the employee will be required to produce a negative COVID-19 test weekly and wear a mask while in the workplace. Health care workers must be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022. Unfortunately, health care workers are not provided the weekly testing option and risk termination if they are not fully vaccinated. If you choose not to get vaccinated and elect the weekly testing option, the employer may not be required to pay for any costs associated with the COVID test.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) instructs employers to pay employees up to four hours to go get the vaccine and provide sick leave for employees if they experience any adverse actions following each dose.
The federal government has given companies “more power than ever before to accelerate our path out of this pandemic, save lives, and protect our economic recovery,” This is not an absolute power. Employees can still exercise their rights in the workplace. If an employee has a disability that prevents him/her from taking the COVID-19 vaccine, the employee may request a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disability Act. Companies will have to reasonably accommodate the employee unless it shows the accommodation will pose an undue burden on the company. Similarly, an employee who has a sincerely held religious belief that prevent him/her from taking the COVID-19 vaccine may also request a reasonable accommodation under Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If you believe you need a reasonable accommodation under either of these two laws, you should request a reasonable accommodation as outlined by your employer. If your employer is covered by this mandate and has not provided you with its accommodation policy, you should contact human resources to notify them of your request for a reasonable accommodation. I strongly recommend that you request the reasonable accommodation in writing. If you are denied a reasonable accommodation or experience retaliation because of your reasonable accommodation request, please contact me immediately.