Every month, Wellable asks a single question to the large, growing, and dedicated community of human resources and wellness professionals subscribed to the Wellable Newsletter. The question for December was about whether or not employers expect to require their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine prior to returning to work.
Once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, will your organization require all employees without a qualified exemption to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to the workplace?
Consistent with the findings from a number of other surveys, few employers (<10%) plan on requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine prior to returning to work. Even when accounting for organizations that were unsure (34%) on their vaccination plans, the majority of employers are not planning to require employees to receive the vaccine. It is important to note that this survey was conducted prior to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) providing guidance on regulatory issues related to the COVID-19 vaccine (more on this below). Since the survey was conducted prior to the guidance being issued, there may be a number of employers, many of which were waiting on direction from the agency, who would now have a clearer understanding of their plans. Regardless, it seems that most employers do not expect to make the vaccine a requirement.
Also conducted prior to EEOC guidance and before official emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (November 30 - December 7), a CNBC and SurveyMonkey survey of more than 9,000 workers across the US found a majority of the workforce (57%) says they would support requiring everyone at their workplaces to receive COVID-19 vaccinations before being allowed to return to work in-person. The results varied significantly when accounting for political affiliation. While 75% of Democrats and 55% of independents are in favor of this requirement, just 41% of Republicans support it either strongly or somewhat. Employers should take this into consideration or issue an internal survey when making vaccination plans.
In Wellable’s proprietary survey of more than 500 working-age US adults, 43% of respondents felt their employer should require all employees without a qualified exemption to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to the workplace. More than a quarter (26%) were unsure.
On December 16, the EEOC provided legal guidance on what employers should know about COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and other laws via technical assistance questions and answers. In short, the agency suggests employers can require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to work.
The current regulations limit an employer’s ability to require medical examinations like blood tests, breath analyses, and blood-pressure screening because they are designed to seek information about an employee’s physical or mental conditions. According to the guidance, “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 and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.” This allows them to require the vaccine be receive to return to work.
To learn more about the laws and regulations related to the COVID-19 vaccine and employees, register to watch the on-demand Wellable Labs webinar with Barbara Zabawa, President of the Center for Health and Wellness Law. In this webinar, Barbara discusses different legal considerations employers should be mindful of as COVID-19 vaccines are made generally available. She also explores whether employers can and/or should mandate employees to receive a vaccine and what exemptions or other pitfalls employers should consider when answering those questions.