Vax Vex: Employers Could Require COVID Vaccine

Millions of coronavirus vaccines are rolling out across the country, and millions of people are voluntarily signing up to receive the shots. But deeper questions persist for the vast majority of the population who remain unvaccinated, like will the government require a vaccine? Will airlines require it for travel? And will employers require it as a condition of employment?

So far, there's been no signal that the government would (or could) mandate every citizen get the vaccine, and the travel industry is mostly against requiring vaccines for travel. But employers are another story. "Some employers will be pressed very hard to require all their employees to get vaccinated, at least to the extent they are in proximity to vulnerable populations," says Richard Carlson, professor at South Texas College of Law-Houston.

So far, most companies have stopped short of mandating vaccines for employees, but based on legal precedent they could if they wanted to. "The simple answer is yes, they can require employees to get the vaccine, and they can even fire employees in most cases for refusing to do so," says Carlson. "Now, having said that you can do something is not the same thing as saying you should."

The law does allow exemptions for those with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs. But Carlson says that only requires companies to make "reasonable accommodations" for those circumstances. "The employer's argument is going to be if you expose my other employees and customers to risk, that's too much a burden for me to bear to accommodate your religion," he tells KTRH.

Because COVID-19 is barely a year old and COVID vaccines have only been out a few months, this area of law will likely have to play out in the months and years ahead. Carlson predicts there will be plenty of legal challenges over the issue. "We have a very diverse, individualistic workforce here in America, and people are going to oppose this," he says. "But simply as a question of is it the employer's legal right, in general the answer is yes."

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