As more and more Americans continue to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, etc.), many companies have begun to return to the office to conduct business in person. But as employers open back up, some are requiring that their employees get vaccinated to continue working for the company. This begs the question of whether an employer has the right to require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“At Will” Employment
Illinois, like most states in the U.S., has what is known as “at will” employment. This means that unless otherwise specified in writing, the employer (and employee) can terminate the employment at any time for any (non-discriminatory) cause – or no cause at all. This allows employers to have a much broader ability to uphold certain requirements for their employees. They can implement any non-discriminatory physical health requirements. So the short answer is “yes,” an employer can require that you get vaccinated. However, there are certain things that must be kept in mind.
While requiring employees to get vaccinated is generally permissible because it is considered part of an employer’s physical health requirements, the company policy must not be applied in a discriminatory manner. In other words, the employer must take into consideration exceptions based upon medical or religious reasons.
Exemptions Under the ADA
Those employees who have a legitimate medical issue can request to be exempt from the requirement and instead to receive a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In order for an employer to determine whether its employee’s disability is covered and thus protected under the ADA, it generally requires a physician to complete the ADA paperwork. The physician will identify the nature of the disability as well as its severity.
Direct Threat Standard
However, it must be understood that according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), COVID-19 meets the ADA’s “direct threat standard.” This standard allows for employers to implement more widespread medical requirements within the workplace than would normally be allowed under the ADA. Therefore a disability that may otherwise be protected and accommodated under the ADA, may not be exempt and accommodated when it comes to COVID-19 regulations in the workplace. It is the job of the employer to determine whether the accommodation needs of the employee would reasonably interfere with safety within the workplace.
Exemptions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Employees who seek an exemption to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement due to religious beliefs may be protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, the employee’s request must be based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” It is up to the courts to determine whether the request for an accommodation meets this definition.
Despite their right to require employees to get vaccinated, since the COVID-19 vaccinations are so new and may still harbor many unknown risks, many employers aside from frontline workers will likely hold off on requiring employees to do so until more data is known.
The IL Employment Law Attorneys at ST Legal Group Can Help
If you believe that your employer has wrongfully terminated you, the attorneys at ST Legal Group can help. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!