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HR Tip: EEOC weighs in on COVID-19 vaccine

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, employers have difficult decisions to face. What role do they play in the education about and distribution of the vaccine? Do they recommend it or make it mandatory? What do they do if employees refuse to be vaccinated? How do they manage a hybrid workforce when some employees are vaccinated, and others aren't?

The EEOC's recently released guidance, Section K of "What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws" essentially gave a green light, with some caveats, for companies to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The key takeaways from the guidance are:

While there is good reason companies want to get all of their employees vaccinated, some industries (such as health care) have stronger justifications to require their employees to be vaccinated as well as historical precedent. There are also practical issues to consider, including the staggered schedule of vaccines based on the state's distribution program, union contracts, a distrust of vaccines may mean a significant number of workers will decline the vaccine, the possibility of lawsuits, employee morale, and costs of administering and recordkeeping. Guidance and regulations may also emerge from federal and state authorities.

If the decision is to make the vaccine mandatory, the policy should be written, properly vetted by attorneys, and distributed to all employees. If it is decided to make the vaccine voluntary, consider incentive programs to maximize participation, and have a clear, written policy. In both cases, communication and messaging will be critical.