COVID-19 has impacted most, if not all, industries—but it’s also caused a great deal of disruption to global supply chains. As suppliers head back to the worksites, there has been a steady conversation around how to protect them and their peers from the virus.
Efforts like social distancing or deep cleaning are being prioritized to ensure transmission is limited. Employers are also being flexible with schedules to keep as many people out of the worksite as possible without major disruption. But some experts question if that’s enough.
The rollout was slow, but with vaccination rates increasing there’s talk if companies will start requiring employers to become vaccinated before returning to the workforce. This brings upon the question, “can employees do so?”
What would need to happen to require suppliers to get vaccinated?
Several factors are converging in the United States which could indicate the potential for a COVID vaccine requirement. Vaccine supply would first need to reach levels where there are doses for everyone. As of May, this issue has been resolved.
Then, Executive Orders or mandates would need to put in place for federal or private contractors, which would allow employers to legally permit to mandate their employees receive COVID vaccinations as a condition of continuing employment.
Is requiring suppliers to receive a vaccination before returning to work legal?
A good example of mandating vaccinations for employers is federal contractors. Before the COVID pandemic, the federal government has required contractor compliance with emerging social or health policy mandates, dating back to the 1960s. The National Emergency created by COVID-19 would appear ripe for a similar action for private and public contractors.
Currently, there is no federal laws that prohibit employers from requiring employees to get a vaccine. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act allows employers to require vaccinations if it can show that an unvaccinated employee would pose a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or other workers.
Given the global pandemic and the close-quarters at some worksites, many employers will not have difficulty determining that an unvaccinated individual will expose others to COVID-19.
But if a person cannot get the vaccine due to a medical condition or disability or if they have religious objections, they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must be provided reasonable accommodation to continue to work. If a person has a religious objection, they will also have to be provided accommodation.
To comply with the ADA, employers should conduct an individualized assessment of four factors:
the duration of the risk
the nature and severity of the potential harm
the likelihood that the potential harm will occur
the imminence of the potential harm
What can a vaccine requirement mean for suppliers and for businesses?
Employers may mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for suppliers in certain circumstances without violating federal anti-discrimination laws, according to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
It’s important that managers communicate with employees about a workplace-vaccination requirement and employers accommodation requests. There should also be a process in place that lays out steps for employees who refuse a vaccine on religious grounds or for approved disabilities.
As more suppliers return to the workforce, companies will be tasked to bump up safety practices—which just might include mandated vaccinations. If so, both employers and employees should fully understand their rights and responsibilities.