Can Employers Require Employees to Get Vaccines?

We have been coping with the effects of the coronavirus for most of 2020. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m so over this pandemic”? Most of us want to get back to life as we knew it before the pandemic struck. However, we continue to hear that we may not be able to control the pandemic until we have an effective vaccine. According to this COVID-19 vaccine tracker, there are nearly fifty COVID-19 vaccines in development worldwide. But we do not know how close we are to having an effective solution to this pandemic. To complicate matters, we have been warned by medical professionals that the upcoming flu season could be devastating. The prospect of a flu season during the coronavirus pandemic is chilling to health experts. In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most of the time, flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May. 

There is uncertainty about how COVID-19 might influence the course of a flu outbreak. Fearing that a combination of seasonal influenza and COVID-19 will overwhelm hospitals, many countries are stepping up campaigns to increase flu vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing for the upcoming flu season and has now published flu vaccine recommendations for the 2020-2021 season.

When a vaccine for COVID-19 does become available, can an employer require it of their employees as a condition of employment? What if employees do not want to take the vaccine? Perhaps they are worried because they think pharmaceutical companies rushed through the process. Do they have a right to refuse the vaccine and keep their jobs? The answer to these questions can be found in the guidelines issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the ‘Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.’  Section III, Part B, No. 13, says that employers cannot require “all” of its employees to take a vaccine. However, an employer can require a vaccination subject to reasonable accommodation exceptions for ADA disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs. EEOC suggests that “ADA-covered employers consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it.” Noting that *As of the date the document was issued, there was no vaccine available for COVID-19.


Centers for Disease Prevention and Control

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)

DOL Wage and Hour Division