By Kathleen J. Jennings (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Late last week, just before most of us enjoyed a long holiday weekend, the EEOC issued some additional guidance addressing questions arising under the federal equal employment opportunity laws in regard to employees and COVID vaccinations. Considering that the distribution of vaccines started in February, the EEOC is a little late to the party, but better late than never. Employers have had a lot of questions about employees and vaccines, and this latest guidance answers some of them.
The key updates to the EEOC’s previous technical assistance are summarized below:
- Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations. Other laws, not in EEOC’s jurisdiction, may place additional restrictions on employers. From an EEO perspective, employers should keep in mind that because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.
- Federal EEO laws do not prevent or limit employers from offering incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination obtained from a third party (not the employer) in the community, such as a pharmacy, personal health care provider, or public clinic. If employers choose to obtain vaccination information from their employees, employers must keep vaccination information confidential pursuant to the ADA.
- Employers that are administering vaccines to their employees may offer incentives for employees to be vaccinated, as long as the incentives are not coercive. Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information. [However, employers may not offer incentives to employees for their family members to be vaccinated, nor can they penalize them if their family members refuse to get vaccinated, as this may violate GINA. ]
It seems that more employers have chosen to offer incentives to employees in exchange for vaccination or proof of vaccination rather than require vaccination, so this new guidance is welcome insofar as it gives the EEOC’s blessing to incentives for vaccines.
Pro Tip: Employers must keep all information regarding employee vaccinations confidential. Indeed, the best practice is to place this information in secure confidential employee medical files, which must be maintained separately from employee personnel files.
Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Copyright 2021 Kathleen Jennings
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