Businesses have been considering whether to perform a forced vaccination policy among workers as the release of a coronavirus vaccine to the general public looms.
The fast-tracked development of the vaccine is a long-awaited discovery amid the continuing pandemic but has further sparked many discussions over how safe it really is and if it should be compulsory in the workplace.
Employers generally have the legal power to ask staff to get vaccinated against the virus, but there are exceptions.
And conversely, workers can object to forced vaccinations under anti-discrimination rules such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which enables employees to be exempt if it goes against a 'sincerely held religious belief'.
Furthermore, those with medical limitations can ask for an exception under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Though like all legal frames, there are exceptions and alterations depending on the case and jurisdiction, meaning forcing a mandatory policy could cause a hard and time-consuming legal challenge for employers.
Legal experts, therefore, think that employers will probably stay away from such plans, which would further make them responsible if an employee suffers an adverse reaction.
Leading labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, which recently made an advice 'task force' because of an influx of questions from employers, says businesses should recognize the 'politicized nature' of the virus and expect rejections if they decide to make the vaccine mandatory.
'If large numbers of people feel the need to be exempt from wearing a mask (which is significantly less intrusive than receiving a vaccination), then employers likely can expect an equal or greater objection to a new vaccine,' attorneys James Paul, Bret Daniel and Jimmy Robinson said.
The law firm explained it will likewise be hard to predict how rules about needed vaccinations will translate in the pandemic era.
Current case law refers to those in the healthcare industry which is recognized as a high-risk work setting, therefore other employers outside that sector may have a more difficult time struggling for those policies in court, according to the firm.
Yet, the severity and novelty of the coronavirus have also proposed exceptions by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The EEOC earlier this year named it a 'direct threat' indicating an infected person poses or a 'significant risk of substantial harm' to others.
The updated standard enables 'more extensive medical inquiries and controls in the workplace than typically allowed under the ADA.'