COVID-19 Vaccines are available to a wide variety of age groups across the country. With eligibility for vaccines open, this also opens to the door to several employment related vaccine questions. Can organizations incentivize their employees to get vaccinated? Can an employer ask their employees what their vaccination status is? We are here to help shed some light on a few of these questions!
Can you ask an employee what their vaccination status is?
The short answer to this is “yes”. According to the EEOC, just requesting proof of receipt of a vaccination (the vaccination card) will not give the employer any information regarding a disability and is not considered a “disability-related inquiry”, which would be prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act (also known as the ADA). If you are marking employment files for vaccination, just simply mark that they have been vaccinated. No further information is needed, refrain from making a copy of the card, writing down vaccination dates, what brand of vaccine was received, etc. Do not ask “why” or “why not” on their vaccination, as further explanation of why an employee chose to receive the vaccine or refuse the vaccine could elicit disability-related information, and you will not know until you have asked and then it’s too late!
Make sure you understand your organization’s needs before asking your employees about their vaccine status. Is your organization a health care or long-term care facility? Do you have customers that have requested to only work with vaccinated employees? If so, knowing the vaccine status of your employees might be more critical for your organization, over other organizations.
Within most organizations there will be individuals who cannot get vaccinations. It’s important to make accommodations for those individuals if they request it. Especially when organizations have been making several accommodations in the last year (regarding COVID-19), now is not the time to stop. Organizations should start looking at their policies and procedures for accommodations and start training employees and management on how to handle accommodation requests when it comes to vaccinations.
Can an organization incentivize their employees to receive a vaccine once it becomes available to the individual?
Yes, but err on the side of caution. Using incentives such as gift cards or cash may open the doors for a discrimination claim. Individuals who cannot receive the vaccine for religious purposes, underlying health issues, etc. would not have those incentives offered to them.
The American Rescue Plan Act was enacted this year to help employers offer their employees paid sick leave. This is a great tool to help offer time off for employees who would like to receive the vaccine but are hesitant about missing work or using their own vacation or sick time. The act adds paid time for getting the vaccination and vaccine recovery, for COVID testing and waiting for the test results. You can find the full details on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1319/text