Many employers have begun requiring their employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to continue working. Is this legal? The short answer is “yes”–in most cases.
No Law Prohibits Requiring Vaccination Generally
There is no federal law or state law in Utah or Nevada where I practice that prevents employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated. In fact, most courts might look favorably on a company that is trying to protect the health and safety of its employees and guests, especially during a pandemic. As a result, in most cases, if your employer threatens to fire you, or does fire you, if you refuse to receive a vaccine, then you likely have no legal recourse.
Two Exceptions May Apply
There are two widely established exceptions to this general rule.
First, you should receive an exemption if you have a disability or medical condition that would put your health at risk if you receive a vaccine. This exception falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Utah law, and Nevada law.
You would likely need to provide a note from your doctor that describes your disability or condition and why you should not receive a vaccine. Also, you would only qualify for the exemption if the accommodation you’re requesting doesn’t impose an “undue hardship” on the employer.
Second, you should receive an exemption if you have a sincerely held religious belief that prohibits you from receiving a vaccine. This exception falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Utah law, and Nevada law. The EEOC has specifically stated the following:
Once an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents the employee from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship. . . . [T]he definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, practices, and observances with which the employer may be unfamiliar. Therefore, the employer should ordinarily assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.
As with a disability, if an employer doesn’t want to provide an accommodation, then it would need to show that doing so would impose an undue hardship on the company. One court has said that in this context an undue hardship means “it would have resulted in more than a de minimis cost to the employer.”
In most cases, simply allowing an employee to forego vaccination would likely cost the company very little to nothing, depending on the circumstances. Keep in mind, however, that it would likely be reasonable for an employer to require a person with an exemption to wear a mask, physically distance, and take other appropriate precautions to protect the health of co-workers and guests.
Is Mandatory COVID Vaccination Illegal Because the FDA’s Approval Is Only for Emergency Use?
Some people have argued that employers cannot make vaccinations mandatory because of a federal law regarding emergency use authorization (“EUA”) that mentions informing individuals of “the option to accept or refuse” an approved product; however, a federal judge in Texas recently rejected that argument in a lawsuit filed by employees of a hospital, and the U.S. Department of Justice has issued an opinion stating the same. Although these two opinions are not binding on other courts, there’s a good chance other judges would rule the same way.
If you have a legitimate reason for being exempted from vaccination at work and your employer is requiring you to receive a vaccine, then feel free to contact us for a case evaluation.