In the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s first grant of Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its pandemic guidance to address the legal issues surrounding the intersection of the COVID-19 vaccine and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws. The guidance—in the form of Technical Assistance Questions and Answers called What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws (“New Guidance”)—is the EEOC’s first substantive position statement on the requirements of EEO laws relative to vaccines since the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and paves the way for COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace. During the H1N1 pandemic, EEOC advised employers, “Generally, ADA-covered employers should consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it,” and noted that any employer requirement that employees take the influenza vaccine must allow for reasonable accommodations for disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).
In its New Guidance, EEOC has backed off of its recommendation of avoiding vaccine mandates but never squarely states that employers may require COVID-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, based on EEOC’s conclusion that vaccines are not regulated “medical examinations” and the inclusion in the New Guidance of an entire section devoted to the rules governing the administration of mandatory vaccine programs, it appears EEOC agrees that employers may indeed mandate vaccines, subject to a number of caveats.
Read our client alert where these caveats and the EEOC’s guidance on a number of additional vaccine-related issues are discussed. For more insights and information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) preparedness, please visit our Employment + Labor Resources page and our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center.