What your employer can legally ask about your COVID vaccination status

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Posted at 7:29 PM, Jun 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-27 19:52:04-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As more Virginians leave their homes and are headed back to work, a Virginia employment attorney weighed in on what employers can legally ask when inquiring about their employees’ COVID vaccination status.

“If you don’t like it just go work somewhere else,” Charles Williams said. “Employers can have now, a lot of conditions of employment, and that’s an extension of that.”

Williams was one of several walking through Carytown Sunday who said they didn’t have a problem with employers enforcing and inquiring about employees’ vaccination status.

Gretta Daughtrey
Gretta Daughtrey

Gretta Daughtrey, who was also in Carytown Sunday, said she worked in sales and system integration for a construction company.

“All of us wanted to get vaccinated,” Daughtrey explained. “They did ask us to send them the copy of our card just so they can have it for the file, and again, we’d all talked about it so much it didn’t feel like they were asking for any information they didn’t already have from me.”

But others took to social media to express another opinion.

In a June 10, CBS 6 Facebook post about a Chesterfield elected official requiring her employees to receive the COVID vaccine or face termination, there was more than 100 comments.

“Taken our rights away once again… not a good thing!” Kathy Wilhelm wrote.

Employment Attorney Ben Johnson
Employment Attorney Ben Johnson

But what are your rights here in Virginia?

Ben Johnson, an employment attorney with the law firm Pierce McCoy, said that as a general rule, there was no restriction on employers mandating vaccinations for their employees. However, he said employers were required to accommodate legitimate religious or medical objections.

He also said new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dictated that employers who mandated the shot, could ask employees whether they’ve been vaccinated.

“I think it’s important to note those questions about the vaccine need to be limited to just the topic of whether the employee has received the vaccine,” Johnson said. “What they can’t ask about is sort of general questions about medical history or things that would reveal whether the employee has some sort of disability.”

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For those who hadn’t gotten the shot, Johnson said employers were not permitted to dig deeper into the "why" that employee made that decision.

Since that was the case, Johnson said it was on the employee to bring any religious or medical concerns forward to request accommodations.

“That being said, it’s a good idea for employers to develop policies or procedures for allowing employees to privately bring accommodation requests forward,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that an employer could not share employees’ vaccination status with other people and were required to keep that information confidential.

“In fact, documents that employers get from employees about vaccination status, like the vaccination card, for instance, those would have to be stored separately from the employees personnel file, just to make sure that information stays set aside and confidential,” Johnson said.