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4 Important Key Points in The EEOC’s Updated Compliance Guide For COVID-19 Vaccinations

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued 21 updated FAQs regarding previously published guidance on workplace COVID-19 vaccination policies. This is the first update made since December of 2020 and provides much-anticipated guidance for employers now that the vaccine has been widely available on a large scale for some time.

We’ve highlighted four important points included in EEOC’s updated FAQs:

1.Mandatory Vaccination

The EEOC’s guidance states that under federal law an employer (with some exceptions) can lawfully require that its employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to work per the American Disabilities Act (ADA) & the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA).
Any employer that decides to go this route must implement a policy that is non-discriminatory against protected groups. The EEOC’s guidance is under federal enforcement however, it may still be limited by state or local regulation. In any case, policies should be discussed with your trusted HR professional to ensure compliance with both federal and local level ordinances.

2.Reasonable accommodation

Any employer implementing a policy that requires their employees to be vaccinated before returning to work must reasonably accommodate employees who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.

∙Religion

When it comes to an employee requesting exemption or accommodation based on a religious belief, the employer should presume the request is based on a sincerely held religious belief. However, if the employer has reasonable cause to question the sincerity of the request, then the employer is justified in asking the employer for supporting information. Due to the complexity of this scenario, it is always advised to speak with a trusted HR professional before making any decisions.

Disability

Employees that have not received the vaccine due to a disability may only be excluded from the workplace if they pose a direct threat under the ADA. The risk should be based on the individual employee’s ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job in correlation to:

  • The duration of the risk.
  • The nature and severity of the potential harm.
  • The likelihood of the potential harm to occur.
  • The imminence of the harm.

The determination should ultimately be based on reasonable medical judgment and current up-to-date knowledge of COVID-19.

Excluding an employee for any of these reasons may not occur until an employer exhausts all efforts to provide reasonable accommodations such as but not limited to:

  • Requiring the individual to continue social distancing and mask-wearing
    practices.
  • Providing a modified shift.
  • Isolating them from the rest of the crew.
  • Allowing the employee to work from home when feasible.

The EEOC subsequently released an employee-facing resource guide that explains how federal employment laws can protect workers during the pandemic.

3.Incentives

Employers may lawfully choose to offer incentives to employees or their families for obtaining a vaccine through a third party outside of the workplace. However, different rules may limit incentives if the employer itself is administering the vaccinations or hiring an agency to do so. The EEOC however does not clarify if to what extent an employer must provide a vaccine incentive to those unable to obtain vaccination due to a medical or religious-based reason.

4.Confidentiality

In their original guidance from December of 2020, the EEOC stated that an employer’s request for documentation or proof is not a medical examination or a disability-related inquiry and therefore lawful to request under the ADA or GINA.

However, even though employers are not required to obtain employees’ consent to disclose this information, employers should treat the employees’ documentation as confidential medical information as there are still risks associated with sharing such information.

Employers should also defer to state and local laws regarding this documentation as some regulations and ordinances have enacted safeguards for personal information which in some cases may include medical information. Employers should consider restricting access to vaccine-related information as they would with other private data.

It should also be noted that the EEOC prepared this new guidance before the CDC’s announcement on May 13, 2021, which states that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing. The EEOC has stated that they will continue to consider the CDC’s guidance but have yet to specify if they will adjust their guidance based on this recent announcement.

As we continue to work through Human Resource complications brought on by the pandemic, workplace conduct and compliance will be continuously changing. It is important that you check with your local officials and trusted HR partners, in any event, to ensure you have the correct and up-to-date information for your organization.

Is there anything Payroll Systems can help you with as you accommodate rapid legislation changes? Reach out and talk to us about the easy-to-scale solutions you need for your business.

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This article provides general information and shouldn’t be construed as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws may change over time and can vary by location and industry, please consult a lawyer or HR expert for advice specific to your business. You can also contact Payroll Systems to inquire about our HR support services.