Can your employer require the COVID-19 vaccine?

Posted at 11:53 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 23:53:15-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Virginia labor and employment attorney said Monday that in many cases, employers have the right to require employees to get the COVID vaccine regardless of if the vaccine was under Emergency Use Authorization or fully FDA approved.

"I don’t necessarily think that full approval will change the law one way or the other," said Pierce McCoy Attorney, Ben Johnson.

As Pfizer pushed for full FDA approval, Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula anticipated that approval could lead to the possibility of more COVID vaccination mandates.

"The shift from being an EUA vaccine to a fully licensed vaccine, which probably won’t happen for a couple of months, that shift will open the door to requirements," Avula said.

Dr. Avula said full FDA approval would allow the government to mandate the vaccine, although he believed that would not happen in Virginia. However, he does believe it would encourage more private employers, colleges and healthcare entities to require the COVID vaccine.

"I certainly think it would make employers more comfortable with the idea of imposing vaccine requirements," said Johnson.

But Johnson said regardless of whether the vaccine was under Emergency Use Authorization or fully FDA approved, laws for employers and employees remained the same.

"If employees work in an en environment where they could arguably pose a threat to the health and safety of customers or other employees by being unvaccinated, the law will allow the employer to require vaccination as a condition of employment," said Johnson.

Johnson said that was with a few important exceptions for employees who had medical or religious reasons not to get the vaccine.

"Those are sort of the only exemptions that employees can legally request, or the employers can legally be required to consider," said Johnson.

Johnson said if an employer is considering enforcing a vaccine mandate, they should do it across the board rather than in a piecemeal fashion. He added that he wouldn't advise employers just requiring the shot for new employees they hire.

"Legally speaking, I think that may be a bit of a gray area, but it's certainly something I wouldn't advise," said Johnson. "The purpose behind the vaccine is to make sure that these employees aren't posing a risk to others on the job site."

For employees that didn't have medical or religious exemptions but didn't want to get the COVID vaccine, Johnson suggested speaking with HR to see if your employer will make other exceptions and decide from there.

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