Because it’s not a “medical examination,” employers can order their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other worker-protection laws.
That’s according to new guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination.
The EEOC said companies can go so far as to bar workers from the workplace if they refuse to get vaccinated without violating either the ADA, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
The guidance doesn’t mean an employer can simply fire a worker who declines to be vaccinated. However, it does mean that if a worker’s job can’t be done remotely and there’s no reasonable way to accommodate the person’s wish not to be vaccinated, then the employer can terminate their employment.
Employers are expected to play a key role in helping the nation develop widespread immunity to the coronavirus as vaccines become more widely available.
The EEOC’s position on COVID-19 vaccinations fits squarely with the long-standing principle requiring employers to ensure a safe workplace.
Under the ADA, employers are limited in their ability to require medical screenings that would reveal an employee’s physical or mental condition. But that scenario, the EEOC said, does not come into play in requiring a vaccination.
“If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status,” it said, “and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.”
It also said that requiring an employee to show proof they received a COVID-19 vaccination would not amount to a disability-related inquiry.
The EEOC did note that pre-vaccination medical screening questions are likely to elicit information about a disability – a no-no under the ADA. To avoid running into trouble with ADA regulations, an employer may be best off asking their employees to obtain their vaccinations with a pharmacy or some other health care provider with which it does not have a contract. The vaccinations are free.