Employers can require employees to get COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 9:39 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - While it will likely be several months until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to the public, when that time comes, employers do have the right to require employees to get one.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines that employers can not only mandate it, but can also exclude workers from the workplace if they refuse.

The Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services tells NBC15 it will not mandate the vaccine, but private employers may determine whether they will require their employees get vaccinated.

However, many companies are holding out on this, as discussions for what a policy could look like are just beginning.

While it is full speed ahead to get healthcare workers a shot at SSM Health, getting the vaccine is not required there. The health system’s regional vice president of pharmacy services, Mo Kharbat, said because COVID-19 vaccines are still under emergency use authorization by the FDA, they will wait to implement any policy until full approval is granted sometime next year.

“At that point,we believe the product will be in a position to be required or be made mandatory,” Kharbat said.

Representatives with UW Health also sent NBC15 a statement that read: “At this time, UW Health will strongly encourage, but not require providers and staff to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. However, those who decline it will be required to complete a declination form citing the reason.”

Assistant Professor of Management and Human Resources Jirs Meuris with the UW Madison School of Business said now is the time employees should start asking questions on how their company might handle things moving forward.

“I think employers that are going to have some level of requirement or mandate are those where their business relies on people being physically there,” Meuris said.

Federal guidelines detail, while workers may be excluded from physically entering the workplace for refusing to be vaccinated, it does not necessarily mean they would get fired.

“Even if the employer doesn’t say ‘you have to get this,’ but maybe the employer says ‘if you don’t get this, you can’t be in the office,’” Meuris said.

Meuris said, for many companies, these kinds of conversations are just starting.

Kharbat said, while he cannot say for sure now, it is likely the vaccine will become a requirement at SSM Health.

“As of now, I would think it will become like the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is currently mandatory for our healthcare workers at SSM Health,” he said.

Under the EEOC guidelines, there are exceptions for those with disabilities or ‘sincerely held’ religious beliefs that prevent them from getting vaccinated.

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