Develop a legal, fair and effective coronavirus vaccination policy.

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Coronavirus vaccinations have begun, with the goal of inoculating enough Americans to end the pandemic sometime in 2021. While most employers are simply encouraging their employees to receive vaccinations, some will outright demand it (see box at right).

Which decision should you make, and which accommodations must you allow? Here are some tips on a legal vaccine policy:

Mandatory or voluntary?

In December, the EEOC issued a ruling saying that employers can legally require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to keep their jobs. However, employers must be prepared to make certain religious or disability exceptions. (See the EEOC vaccine guidance at www.tinyurl.com/EEOCcovid-QA and scroll down to Section K.)

Obviously, you would like as many of your employees as possible to get the protection a vaccine provides.

But legal and logistical obstacles may require flexibility. Factors to weigh include disabilities that may make vaccinations risky for some employees. Employees may have religious or moral objections to being vaccinated.

Some employees are skeptical about the safety of vaccines. Plus, currently available coronavirus vaccines only have emergency Food and Drug Administration approval. Legal challenges may follow.

If you require vaccinations, you must consider those objections. You can discipline workers who refuse, but only after considering their objections. To avoid bias claims, apply your policy equally to all similarly situated workers.

Disability issues

Some disabilities may make vaccines unsafe. Employees who take medications for a variety of autoimmune disorders may not be able to be safely or effectively immunized. Some coronavirus vaccines may not be as effective in those who are immune suppressed. It's possible that vaccine side effects may be dangerous for some people.

If an employee raises a disability-related objection to being vaccinated, engage in the ADA's interactive accommodations process. Discuss possible alternatives to immunization.

Possibilities to consider: Transfer to a job that minimizes contact with other employees, use of protective gear or telework as an alternative to in-person work. If no reasonable accommodation is possible, you can terminate.

Note: The EEOC says coronavirus vaccines are not medical exams and, thus, not prohibited under the ADA.

Religious objections

Treat religious or moral objections to vaccines just as you do disability-related concerns: Title VII of the Civil...

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