Can Your Employer Require You To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Although scores of scientists busted their butts in order to develop the COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, for many of us, it felt like our turn to get the life-saving dose couldn't come soon enough. As of May 12, 2021, a whopping 263 million doses have been administered in the United States, (per NPR) and President Joe Biden continues to push to get enough doses for all adults by the end of the spring season (per The Washington Post). It seems we've finally entered a new phase of this ever-evolving pandemic — one that's littered with newfound legal and ethical questions. 

A question raised by many workers is, "Can my employer require me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?" On the other end of the conundrum, employers in a variety of industries are wondering if they have the right to turn away employees who opt out of inoculation. Considering the virus has killed more than 582,000 Americans, it's definitely a fair question (via The Washington Post). To both queries, the short answer is yes — but that's not to say there aren't any caveats.

Employers must be able to explain why vaccines are necessary to the job

According to The Washington Post, it's entirely legal for employers to make hiring decisions based on whether or not applicants have gotten one of the three available vaccines in the United States, but only if they can prove why it would be related to the job. Additionally, the rules differ for private citizens hiring for positions like a housekeeper, nanny, or contractor. In these instances, fewer restrictions apply.

As for current employees, attorneys told The Washington Post that employers can legally ask their workers if they've been vaccinated and can also request proof. However, legal professionals caution employers against asking for additional information once they receive an answer. Moreover, some employers can legally require you to get vaccinated — that is, if they're able to justify it. They also must make accommodations for those who can't get the vaccine due to a disability or religious reason. These guidelines are all laid out in the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which describes federal nondiscrimination laws for the workplace. But because this is fairly unfamiliar territory, state legislation surrounding vaccines are evolving as we speak.

According to Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University, vaccines will likely become "a ticket to hiring." 

"Some businesses are going to be able to make a convincing ethical case that you better be vaccinated to protect your co-workers and protect your customers," he told The Washington Post. "I think it will become pretty routine."