Who is covered by the COVID-19 vaccine mandates?

Summer Murshid & Gregory Stratz

As employees and employers continued to navigate returning to their workplaces in the ever-changing COVID era, many have questions about which employers are covered by various federal, state, and local mandates, and whether employees have the ability to seek relief from those mandates.

Who is covered by the vaccine mandate and are there any ways to get around it? 

Below are a few of the big questions surrounding COVID-19 workplace mandates, and answers to these questions.

Q: Can my employer require me to be vaccinated for COVID-19?

A:  Yes.

  • If you work for the federal government or a federal government contractor, you must be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021 to continue employment.
  • If you work for a health care organization that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, the Center for Medicare Services is writing a rule requiring your employer to mandate vaccines.
  • If you work for a private employer with more than 100 employees, a forthcoming OSHA rule will require employees to be fully vaccinated OR subjected to weekly testing.
  • If you work for a private employer of less than 100 employees, your employer can still mandate the vaccine if they so choose. You can be subject to discipline, including termination, for failure to comply with a company COVID mandate. Private employers may also put in place a combination of vaccine and testing protocols.

Q: When do the workplace COVID-19 vaccination mandates go in to effect? 

A:  It depends on your employer.

  • President Biden’s executive order dictates all federal government employees and contractors must be vaccinated by November 22, 2021.
  • The Center for Medicare Services expects to roll out the rule that applies to health care workers who work in Medicare or Medicaid facilities by October. The mandate will take effect sometime after the rule is issues.
  • OSHA expects to roll out the rule for private employers with more than 100 employees in the coming weeks, and employees will likely have 50-90 days to comply.
  • Private employers with less than 100 employees are free to issue their own COVID-19 vaccination mandates and set their own timelines for those protocols.

 

Q: Are there any exceptions to the vaccine mandates?

A:  Employees may submit accommodation requests for  employers to evaluate and either grant or deny.

Disability Accommodations to COVID Vaccine Mandates

If you have a legally-defined disability that requires a reasonable accommodation and not receiving the vaccine is related to your disability, you may request, as an accommodation, to be exempted from the vaccine mandate. Employees of both government and private employers may request such accommodations. Once you make the request, your employer must engage in the interactive process with you but keep in mind, your employer may deny your requested accommodation if they believe it will impose an undue hardship.

Religious Accommodations to COVID Vaccine Mandates

In limited circumstances, an employee may seek and obtain a religious accommodation to a vaccine mandate. Employees of both government and private employers may request such accommodations. The burden imposed to receive a religious exemption is relatively high and is based on several factors, which allow an employer to objectively evaluate whether the religious belief is or is not sincerely held. Employers are also entitled to deny a religious accommodation request if granting it would impose a substantial legal or financial hardship.

 

Q: How do I request a reasonable vaccine accommodation for my disability?

A:   Most employers have processes in place for employees to  request a vaccine accommodation.

In general, it is sufficient for an employee to advise the employer that they have a disability that requires an accommodation, and identify the requested accommodation. That notification triggers the legal requirement for the employer to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee about the requested accommodation, which may include requesting additional information from the employee about the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions.

An employer does not have to grant the exact accommodation requested by the employee. For example, an employer is entitled to propose alternative solutions that the employee must consider, with his or her health care providers, if the employee’s proposed accommodation will cause an undue hardship for an employer.

 

Q: How do I request a religious vaccine accommodation?

A:  You should contact your employer to determine if they have a process in place for requesting a religious accommodation. Many employers may be in the process of putting something in place, as the landscape for these mandates continues to change.

Your request will be evaluated for:

  • sincerity of the belief
  • whether you have behaved in a manner consistent with those beliefs
  • whether the timing of your request renders it suspect, and
  • whether there may be secular reasons or evidence to suggest that the accommodation is being sought for non-religious reasons

An employer is legally entitled to seek additional supporting information regarding the sincerity of the employee’s religious beliefs. If the request would cause an undue hardship, the employer may deny it.

If you have additional questions regarding COVID-19 vaccines mandated in your place of work, please contact Hawks Quindel employment attorneys to schedule a consultation.

Summer Murshid

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