Your employer could require you to get a COVID-19 vaccine

MADISON, Wis. — On Wednesday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released federal guidelines saying employers have the right to make getting a COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for employees.

There are two main exceptions, including for people with disabilities and people with a religious objection. The EEOC guidance said employers would need to make reasonable accommodations for these employees. This could mean moving them to an area with less customers, allowing them to work from home, or requiring they wear a mask.

But if the employee still poses a threat, it could result in the employee not being allowed at the worksite. According to the EEOC guidelines, this doesn’t mean they would automatically be fired.

But employment attorney Nick Fairweather said he thinks there will be people whose employment is terminated as a result of vaccine mandates.

“I do see a pretty big potential, significant potential, for employees to have disputes with employers and situations that could potentially end a job and have a pretty significant impact on an individual’s career,” said Fairweather.

Fairweather said his law office is expecting a lot of calls from employees in the coming months.

“Just based on my long time experience with Dane County and Madison employers, I do anticipate a lot of Madison employers requiring vaccinations to return (to work),” he said.

But Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at UW-Madison, said it’s unusual for employers to mandate a vaccine. She thinks they should rely on voluntary compliance.

“There’s going to be enough people who have some reason why they can’t necessarily take the vaccine that an employer who issues a mandate on pain of being dismissed from employment is going to wind up having to essentially negotiate with many individual employees about their particular circumstances and have to dance around these very confusing rules,” said Charo. “In many ways it’s much easier for an employer to simply say ‘I’m going to encourage it, I’m going to strongly recommend it. I’m going to make it easy for you’.”

She said employers could even incentivize getting a vaccine by giving employees who comply certain perks, such as being able to pick vacation days first.

“It helps you avoid the kind of emotional resentment that being told what to do leads even reasonable people to sometimes say ‘no,'” said Charo.

Although she said voluntary compliance used to work in public health, the political divide in whether people believe in the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic or not has shown that sometimes it doesn’t.

Employers have time to decide whether they want to make getting a vaccine mandatory or not. The general public won’t have access to the vaccine for a few more months.