CHCC: Employers can require COVID-19 vaccination but…

Posted on Feb 11 2021

With the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. continuing its vaccination rollout, it clarified that it is up to an employer if they want to make the vaccination mandatory so employees can return to work, but there are some exemptions.

Keanna Villagomez, CHCC’s public health educator, said that, while CHCC’s main goal is to make the vaccine accessible for everyone, it is up to the businesses on what their policies will be. This particular concern, she said, is commonly brought up at Society of Human Resources Management meetings.

“From what I gathered from the discussion, it’s really up to the company if they’re going to be imposing that kind of policy. …Our main goal is to just make it accessible for all people,” said Villagomez.

When asked about those who have disabilities or religious beliefs that would rule out being vaccinated, Villagomez said it is a case-by-case basis.

Citing the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s COVID-19 guidance, she said employers may implement mandatory vaccination polices once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available, but any policy must meet certain requirements under federal anti-discrimination laws. This includes discrimination against employees and job applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.

The EEOC rule states that employers may require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine before reporting to work but employers must consider accommodations for workers who refuse to get vaccinated due to a medical disability or “sincerely held religious belief.”

For instance, an employer can implement a mandatory vaccination policy to reduce the threat of workplace exposure to COVID-19 but even where such a direct threat exists, the employer must conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether the threat could be reduced through a reasonable accommodation, such as permitting the employee to continue working remotely or adjusting the employee’s duties to reduce the amount of contact with others.

Additionally, if the direct threat cannot be reduced without trouble, the employer can restrict the employee from physically entering the workplace, but the employee may not automatically terminate the employee. Instead, employers will need to determine if any other rights apply under other federal, state, and local authorities. For example, an employee who declines a vaccine due to a disability may potentially be eligible to take leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the FMLA, or other company leave of absence policy.

The same goes for those who have “sincerely held religious beliefs” but the employer should assume that an employee’s request for a religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious beliefs.

Justine Nauta | Correspondent
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.
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