LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — While we continue to move down the pipeline of who's next to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, some are wondering if an employer can require its employees to get that shot.
The answer is, "yes," but there's a right and a wrong way to do it.
Local Attorney Nathan Read, with Mitchell Williams, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued guidance on this exact question and they said yes, an employer can require COVID-19 vaccinations, if they follow federal anti-discrimination laws.
But more importantly, should it be a requirement?
"This is not a, 'Oh, the EEOC says it's okay and now I can do it.' There is a process you have to walk through and in some case, not just by the employer, but by the individual," he said.
What Read really wants people to understand is that this isn't a one-size fits all approach.
"It's dependent on the circumstances of the employer, their workforce, and then the individuals who are requesting exemption," he said.
Read said the first step is to evaluate whether or not there is a direct threat in the workplace if employees choose to be unvaccinated.
If that's the case, then the employer can make the vaccine a requirement.
"In addition to imposing that mandate, then the employer has to consider what are other circumstances that would warrant that employee being exempted or potentially excluded from that mandate," he said.
For example, according to Read, if the individual is already working remotely and wouldn't be a direct threat.
If that direct threat is in place though, the employer has to go through the same accommodation processes, if an employee refuses the vaccine based on a medical disability or religious beliefs.
"Just like an employer would have to engage in the interactive process if somebody had a back issue and weren't able to perform certain functions of their job, that same interactive process would be triggered," he said.
Mandating isn't the only option though.
According to Read, there are other things employers can do like educating their staff on the importance of receiving the vaccine or providing incentives, like paid time off or extra money.
"What we want to do is try to meet the employees where they are to hopefully encourage them to get it and remove any barriers that might be in place preventing him or her from getting the vaccine," he said.
This applies to both private and public employees and is based off of a federal law.
Read said with the legislature currently in session, they are closely monitoring for any developments.