Can Employees Lose Their Jobs for Refusing the COVID Vaccine?
In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on workplaces across the country, and now, as vaccines are becoming readily available, employers and employees have more issues to address. Right now, many workers are wondering if employees can lose their job for refusing the COVID vaccine. As with most issues related to the COVID pandemic, the issue is complicated.
Here, employment attorney Dan A. Atkerson discusses how employer vaccine mandates are impacted by existing employment laws, and what that means for workers in Allen, TX, Plano, TX, Frisco, TX, and surrounding areas who don’t want to get vaccinated.
Are Employer Vaccine Mandates Legal?
Understandably, businesses are eager to get employees back to work after months of shutdowns and restrictions, but they need to do so as safely as possible. As a result, many employers are considering COVID vaccine mandates for employees. So, are employer vaccine mandates legal?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, says employers do have a right to encourage vaccination among employees, and may even require it, provided that mandates comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other employment laws.
Even under ADA guidelines, employers are allowed to have mandates that include requiring employees not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others in the workplace. Depending on the field of work, COVID (or refusing a COVID vaccine) could be viewed as a threat to others, particularly in the food or health industry. Under these circumstances, an employer could make a case for legal vaccine requirements. However, even if the vaccine mandate is legal, disabled employees are protected by the ADA, which allows them to request reasonable accommodations.
If an employee cannot be vaccinated due to a disability, and they are considered a reasonable threat to others because of that, the employer needs to consider if reasonable accommodations can be made. Potential accommodations for someone who cannot get a COVID vaccine include:
- Allowing a leave of absence
- Allowing the employee to work remotely
- Altering job functions so that a vaccine is less critical
- Making changes to the employee’s schedule
Title VII is similar to the ADA in that it provides employees with certain protections. Protections under Title VII directly pertain to religious beliefs. Title VII requires an employer to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and practices. This means that, if an employee refuses a COVID vaccine on the basis of sincere religious beliefs, the employer must consider reasonable accommodations, such as those mentioned above.
If reasonable accommodations cannot be made, the employee can be kept off the premises (if they are considered a threat to the health or safety of others), but any termination would still need to comply with local and federal employment laws.
What Should I Do If I Think My Rights Have Been Violated?
If an employee is terminated because they refuse a COVID vaccine, and they believe that their employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations, they may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
To explore their legal options, individuals should work with a knowledgeable employment attorney, such as Dan A. Atkerson. Attorney Atkerson understands both local and federal employment laws and can advise individuals on their best course of legal action, as well as the type of damages they may be due.
Contact Our Law Office
If you have questions about employer vaccine mandates, or if you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, attorney Dan A. Atkerson can help. To schedule a consultation with our legal team, contact us online at your earliest convenience, or call our law firm at (214) 273-1956.