COVID-19 has affected employees throughout the world, causing millions to work from home or forcing them out of work completely. The pandemic has completely reshaped America's labor force, so how will the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine change the labor force going forward?
What rights do employees have when it comes to the vaccine and the regulations associated with it? As employers return remote employees to the workplace, could employees be required to get the vaccine? We have developed this guide to help you understand employee rights with the COVID-19 vaccine and answer these questions.
Can Employers Force Employees to Get a Vaccine?
The short answer is yes, employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine to continue working for the employer. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a requirement for a COVID-19 vaccination would not specifically violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since administering the vaccination does not mean the employer is seeking information about the employee's current health status or impairments, it is not a medical examination and does not violate the ADA. Alternatively, employers may consider taking an approach to encourage workers to get vaccinated, rather than issuing a mandate across their companies. This approach would avoid potential issues with exemptions, though employers will still need to be mindful of reasonable accommodations.
However, there are exceptions an employer will need to consider when requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, including religious beliefs and medical conditions.
- Religious exemptions: Religious beliefs may prohibit an employee from getting a vaccination.
- Medical exemptions: Some employees may also be exempt due to medical reasons. For example, if an employee has a disability and the vaccine could present concerns, they may not be required to get a vaccination. If someone is at risk for an allergic reaction to the vaccine, they may also have a medical exemption.
Since employment is generally at-will in the United States, employers set the working conditions with the goal of creating a safe and healthy work environment. Employer parameters for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment are governed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA. If employees are exempt from getting the vaccine, employers may need to find a reasonable alternative that allows these employees to continue working for the employer. For example, even if an employee who cannot be vaccinated poses a risk to others in the workplace, their employer cannot exclude them from their job unless it is not possible to provide the employee a reasonable accommodation to reduce the risk, such as working separately, wearing a mask, or working from home.
Employer Operational Considerations As Employees Get Vaccinated
Aside from state-mandated restrictions which are slowly being lifted across the country, employers will hold the decision-making power on when their employees may return to the workplace after getting vaccinated. Employers may want to consider working with employees to stagger employee vaccinations to avoid worker shortages as a result of vaccine side effects. Side effects are normal signs that a person's body is building protection after a vaccine. Some people experience side effects that impact their ability to perform daily activities for a few days, while others do not experience any side effects at all.
If an employee gets a two-dose vaccine, side effects tend to occur more frequently and severely after the second dose. Though some employees may not need to miss work after getting the vaccine, employers may want to offer flexible leave policies for employees who experience side effects following vaccination. If employees need to take off work for a few days following vaccination, this could cause delays if several employees in the same department are absent.
Staggering vaccinations for employees who work in the same facility or job category can ensure that operations continue running smoothly. Each facility should evaluate its specific circumstances to determine the best approach for staggering vaccinations. Facilities should also take into consideration the number of doses that each employee needs to receive.
Are COVID-19 Vaccines Covered by Insurance?
Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine is generally covered by insurance, though some providers may not administer the vaccine. Medicaid programs and private insurers are responsible for covering COVID-19 vaccines at no cost. Health care providers who administer the vaccine must provide it at no out-of-pocket cost to patients. Everyone can get vaccinated, regardless of network or coverage status, including those who are uninsured.
Employees should not have to pay an office visit fee if the vaccine is the only medical service they receive, and health care providers should not require additional medical services as a condition for receiving the vaccine. Providers who administer the COVID-19 vaccine to uninsured patients can request reimbursement via the COVID-19 Uninsured Program under the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
Most of us are wondering when we will be able to return to normal. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer, even as the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine picks up speed. Before we can return to normal, experts advise we must reach herd immunity. This is achieved when a large proportion of the population is immune, mainly through vaccination, preventing the virus from spreading easily.
To reach herd immunity in the U.S. and significantly slow viral activity, 70% to 85% of the population must be vaccinated. Other experts state we will have a better idea about whether we are close to returning to normalcy depending on what is happening in the community and in hospitals. Hospitalizations will be reduced significantly, and case numbers will be very low.
Predictions about a timeline for a return to normalcy vary. Some experts state we could get back to normal as early as 2021, while others predict normalcy may not occur until 2022. Several factors could affect this timeline, including the pace of the vaccine rollout, vaccine hesitancy, more contagious COVID-19 variants and how long natural immunity lasts. Of course, we also need to keep in mind that the new normal will likely also include this coronavirus strain (i.e., COVID-19) as a part of regular life.
Learn More About The Phia Group's Health Care Consultation Services
At The Phia Group, LLC, we offer health care consultation services that can help you during this time as your employees return to work. We pride ourselves on being a one-stop shop for all of our clients' health care needs. If you are considering transitioning to a self-funded plan, we understand that this process can be complex. Our mission is to help you find health benefits that are more affordable and provide cost-containment services customized to your needs.
We are happy to discuss with you how a self-funded plan can suit your organization and how we can maximize your benefits while minimizing costs, allowing you to take back control of your operations. Learn more about our health care consultation services at The Phia Group, or contact us today to discuss your options with one of our health insurance consultants.