This week’s post was co-authored by Robinson+Cole Labor and Employment Group lawyer Emily A. Zaklukiewicz.
While employers in healthcare and education have mandated, or considered mandating, vaccination of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently employers in many other industries are considering doing so. Manufacturers are now grappling with how best to evaluate the risks associated with such policies, implementation and administration of a mandatory vaccination policy, and the handling of requests for exemption, which may follow. Under federal and many state laws, employers requiring vaccination must provide employees (and applicants with job offers) with the opportunity to request an exemption from vaccination as a reasonable accommodation, based on a disability (or medical condition) or sincerely held religious belief. Employers are required to engage in an interactive process with employees to understand the request and determine whether to approve or deny it. Therefore, it is critical that employers maintain clear policies and procedures for evaluating such requests and understand their legal obligations in doing so. Of particular note, general vaccine hesitancies and personal philosophies are generally not protected by law and employers are not required to consider such exemption requests unless a state or local law provides otherwise.