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Can Companies Require COVID-19 Vaccinations at Work?

As COVID-19 vaccinations open to all adults in Texas on March 29, 2021, many employers are weighing the pros and cons of bringing employees back into the office – if they haven’t already. Amidst the ongoing pandemic, employee vaccination is a major concern for many offices and work environments. 

Employees and employers alike must wonder whether vaccinations would be required before employees return to a physical office space. Moreover, employers must continue to consider the associated costs and who must bear them. 

Every workplace is unique, and so are its policies. However, it’s important to understand the legality of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace. As employment lawyers in Houston, the team at Universal Law Group decided to examine this issue a bit further. 

COVID-19 Vaccinations at Work

When the announcement of multiple effective COVID-19 vaccines came in 2020, employers in Texas already had their eyes on workers returning to their offices. As vaccine eligibility opens up in Texas, it ultimately comes down to the systems in place to make those vaccines available to Houston’s expansive population. 

While many thought it would take months for eligibility to open to everyone, the availability of Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca vaccines along with the loose restrictions on phases have led the population to a point where the most important issue is reaching herd immunity. 

Still, it is important to shine a light on workplace policies regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and employees, whether they come into existence or already exist. One of the main questions in this discussion is whether employers can require employees to get a vaccine before allowing them to return to the office. 

Can Employers Purchase COVID-19 Vaccines? 

While some companies may wish to purchase doses of one of the vaccines, this currently isn’t possible. At the moment, only the federal government is able to purchase the vaccine and distribute it to local government systems. However, as the vaccine reaches more people and the pandemic begins to slow, it is possible that vaccines could be available for purchase down the road. 

Should Employers Set Up On-Site Vaccinations? 

Per CDC recommendations and the Workplace Vaccination Program, employers have the potential to establish on-site vaccination clinics later in 2021. At this point, the hope is that vaccine availability will be sufficient enough to be distributed to the general population. 

Moreover, with reduced rates of community spread, it is likely that more workers will return to physical workplaces. However, it is important to remember the vaccination schedule required. All but one of the approved vaccines require the administration of a second dose 3-4 weeks after the first. Due to this, employers must carefully consider which brand they administer. Additionally, they should consider the obligation they take on regarding the necessary timing of the doses. 

How Much Do Vaccines Cost? Who Pays for Them? 

Per the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), any employer-sponsored health insurance plans cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations. This comes with a no-cost share for 15 days after the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). 

This rule was established specifically for the pandemic. In most cases, plans are required only to cover recommended preventive services without member cost-share. 

Additionally, the federal government purchases and distributes doses of the vaccines through state and local health departments. With this in mind, it is likely that employer-sponsored plans will only be responsible for the administration rather than the full cost of the vaccine. Through medical and pharmacy benefits, employers cover the total cost. This makes it much easier for employees to get vaccinated anywhere. 

Can Employers Require Employees to get COVID-19 Vaccinations?

There’s no easy answer to this question, unfortunately. Employers might be tempted to require COVID-19 vaccinations before employees return to in-person work. However, it’s wise to refrain from establishing such a policy until there is an adequate supply available. 

Still, workplaces with high-risk employees may choose to require vaccination. These include manufacturers, healthcare facilities, and frontline or essential workers. It’s important for employers to understand that there may be exceptions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These organizations may provide more guidance for employers on vaccine administration and requirements. With these caveats surrounding vaccinations, employers may wish to avoid drafting contract language mandating vaccination at this time. 

Houston Employment Lawyers at Universal Law Group

As COVID-19 vaccinations continue among the general public, workplace disputes may arise whenever employers decide to require vaccination among employees. Due to the complexity of the issues at hand, it’s essential to seek out guidance from experienced employment lawyers in Houston. 

At Universal Law Group, we represent employers and employees alike in complicated employment disputes. When you want to prevent workplace disputes or currently face a dispute, our legal team can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation