January 16, 2021

What school districts need to know about COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

While districts are allowed to require employees to be vaccinated, they should consider a variety of factors before making the decision, legal and other experts say. Can you require a COVID-19 vaccine?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws, released guidance in December specific to the coronavirus pandemic. Legally, there is nothing that prohibits an employer from mandating a COVID-19 vaccination, said lawyer Barry Hartstein, who specializes in labor and employment issues.

The agency “didn’t either endorse [requiring the vaccine] or say you couldn’t do it — but they talked about conditions and things you need to take into consideration,” Hartstein said.

Per the guidance, “If an employee cannot get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance, and there is no reasonable accommodation possible, then it would be lawful for the employer to exclude the employee from the workplace.” The guidance also notes, “This does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker. Employers will need to determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.”

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