Vaccines In The Office: Can Employers Require Employees Get A Shot?

Monday, December 14th 2020, 10:02 pm


As the COVID-19 vaccine inches closer to availability for the general public, Oklahoma employers could soon decide whether to require the shot before workers return to the office. 

Teleworking has become a new normal since the start of the pandemic. According to a Summer 2020 Gallup poll, about a quarter of Americans have recently worked entirely from home. 

Oklahoma employers can require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the workplace, according to Adam Childers, a labor and employment attorney at Crowe & Dunleavy.

There are two main avenues for employees to seek an exception: Medical or religious reasons. 

“This is where it becomes difficult,” Childers said. “Because personal choice and belief sometimes can come very close to the line of your religious beliefs, or even your beliefs about medicine and what kinds that should be used.” 

The two exceptions are made possible through the American with Disabilities Act and Title XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Personal opinions are not protected by either. 

“By and large, the law does not make protections for your personal choice as long as the employer has a legitimate business reason as to why they’re using the vaccine,” Childers said. 

The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Oklahoma on Monday. It could be months before it’s available to the public. 

Related: Oklahoma Officials Announce First Shipment of Pfizer Vaccine

Childers said the availability of the vaccine will likely inform employers when deciding whether to require it in their workplaces or not.

“I think there’s some hesitation, at least outside of places that don’t have frontline workers, to make it mandatory,” Childers said. 

Childers is recommending to his clients positive messaging towards vaccinations, while not necessarily requiring it. 

“Approach it like a team: We’re all in this together,” Childers said. “Then, your messaging helps reinforce for everyone that: ‘I’m looking out for you. Will you look out for me?’” 


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