Companies Can Require Employees to Get COVID-19 Vaccine, Though There Are Exceptions, EEOC Says

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Employers are also allowed to provide incentives to workers willing to be immunized against COVID-19, including money, though incentives cannot be "coercive."

Companies can now require all employees physically entering a workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which updated its guidance on the matter Friday. Employers must comply with reasonable accommodation for employees who are exempt from such requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations, the commission wrote

Employers are also allowed to provide incentives to workers willing to be immunized, including money, though incentives cannot be "coercive." Though the commission did not provide examples of illegal incentives, it did note "because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information."

The EEOC said its updated guidance addresses questions often asked concerning vaccinations and how employment may or may not be impacted. 

"The updated technical assistance released today addresses frequently asked questions concerning vaccinations in the employment context," EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement. "The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our COVID-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy-to-understand and helpful information. We will continue to address the issues that were raised at the Commission's recent hearing on the civil rights impact of COVID-19."

Any employer offering vaccinations on-site must keep confidential its employees' medical information. Employers must also keep employees' vaccination information confidential, the EEOC said. 

Employers are allowed to provide employees and their family members with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines and raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination.

Though the guidance has been updated, some legal experts have said the guidance is not defined enough, and that there's enough legal gray area that a flurry of lawsuits could arise, CBS News reported. 

"What is 'coercive' is unclear because, just as with anything else, one person's view of what is a coercive incentive is not the same as another person's," Helen Rella, an employment attorney at New York-based law firm Wilk Auslander, told CBS News. "You might find an incentive of $100 coercive and another person might find an incentive of $10,000 coercive. That's where the door is left open [where] we don't have the detailed guidance we were hoping to receive."

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