Can your boss mandate you get a COVID vaccine? The answer might surprise you.

Posted at 5:10 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 19:16:11-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As more and more people are able to sign-up for the COVID-19 vaccine, some have asked the CBS 6 Problem Solvers whether their employer can mandate them to get a shot.

Dr. Megan Healy, Governor Ralph Northam’s chief workforce advisor, is tasked with issuing guidance to employers and employees surrounding the coronavirus.

“Can or can they not? I think there are laws on both sides of that issue. So, we really encourage [employers] if they are going to mandate [the vaccine] to seek legal counsel,” Secretary Healy said when asked about the rules.

An employee can refuse to get their dose based on religious beliefs or if the vaccine would adversely impact a medical condition, Healy said.

An employer can inquire about a worker’s vaccination status.

“To return to work or to be on the frontlines, an employer can ask if someone has been vaccinated and that’s validated. If an employee or worker says, 'no I haven’t,' then that’s when you move into the American Disability Act (ADA) because that discloses a potential health condition that a worker does not have to disclose to an employer,” Healy described.

Scott Oswald serves as managing principal of The Employment Law Group, P.C. based in Washington D.C. He anticipated an increase of calls as more employees return to the work.

“Ultimately, if it is a position where the essential function of a job requires that employee’s attendance or physical presence at the employer’s worksite, then that employer can require those employees to be vaccinated,” Oswald explained.

He encouraged companies to work with their staff before issuing any mandates.

Oswald suggested giving employees incentives to get the vaccine or finding other duties for those who refuse their dose.

“That employer generally must accommodate that employee to the extent that the employer can. That doesn’t mean they have to bring that employer in the workplace,” he stated.

Communication between employer and employee is paramount, said Oswald. Notify your employer of your limitations as soon as possible and write it down. A doctor’s note explaining your condition could also benefit your case.

Oswald also urged business owners to be flexible with those who have a concern about the vaccines.

More than 2.1 million Virginians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Dr. Healy said next week her office would roll out a new toolkit for employers with posters and information sheets that can be posted in the workplace.

The Commonwealth continued to urge everyone to get their vaccination.

“We are not going to stop until all Virginians will get vaccinated,” Healy said.