The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says there’s nothing in federal law that can prevent an employer from compelling employees to be vaccinated in order to work.
However, the EEOC also said that for employees who have a religious objection or a physical disability that prevents them from receiving the vaccine, an employer must provide “reasonable accommodations.” Those accommodations could include forcing an unvaccinated employee to wear a mask, be socially distanced from other employees, or allowed to work from home.
The updated guidance is intended to answer frequently asked questions, EEOC Chairwoman Charlotte Burrows said in a statement. She said the agency will continue to update and clarify its assistance for employers.
The commission is an independent, bipartisan agency that enforces workplace civil-rights laws. The five-person body is led by Ms. Burrows, a Democrat whom President Biden elevated to the top position. It also includes three Republican members nominated by former President Donald Trump.
Many employers are forgoing a vaccine requirement in lieu of incentives.
JBS USA, the biggest U.S. beef processor, and Pilgrim’s Pride, a top poultry supplier, won’t require plant workers to get the vaccine, a spokesman for the companies said. A Bolthouse Farms spokesman said the company didn’t have plans to mandate vaccinations. Dollar General, Trader Joe’s and Instacart Inc. didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.
Keira Lombardo, chief administrative officer for Smithfield Foods Inc., said the pork giant is making vaccines available for plant workers but isn’t requiring them at this time.
The EEOC said employers may provide employees and their family members information about the benefits of vaccines and how to obtain them. It noted the vaccines are available free of charge.
Those employers who still leave employees a choice while making the vaccine freely available are making the right call. In a couple of months, even wearing a mask won’t be necessary as the virus will be largely gone from large swaths of the country. It’s likely to come back in the fall and winter, but with 70-75 percent of the nation vaccinated, it’s not likely to be a big problem.
“To the extent that employees are concerned that coming back to the workplace will put them at risk of getting Covid-19, anything that helps an employer get more employees vaccinated will help make the case that the workplace is safe,” said Marc Freeman of the Chamber of Commerce.
It’s no one’s business why someone doesn’t get vaccinated, which is why the employer mandate will probably be fought in court. When does the idea of “safety” override our right to privacy? That’s the question that will be decided by a federal court in the next few months.