For business owners looking to get their employees back to the office, there’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel: A COVID-19 vaccine has been found effective and could be distributed in the next few months.
Pfizer and the German biotech company BioNTech announced this morning their innovative, mRNA-based vaccine is 95% effective, according to analysis from phase three testing. It’s good news in a week in which the U.S. reported a record 10 million confirmed coronavirus cases; on Tuesday, hospitalizations hit an all-time high of 61,964.
Other organizations, including Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford University, are also in phase three testing for vaccines that look promising.
News of the vaccine also raises questions for business owners, according to Inc.: Can you require employees to be vaccinated, and, if so, how do you go about it?
Employment lawyers and HR professionals say that policies regarding the flu vaccine are a good place to start. Many states mandate that hospital workers and other health care professionals, as well as schoolchildren and preschoolers in day care, get flu shots and other vaccines. But it’s not required for most professions. Generally, employers can require a flu vaccination, but an employee may be entitled to an exemption if he or she has a particular disability that needs to be accommodated or a sincerely held religious objection to taking the vaccine, says Michael Schmidt, a New York-based employment lawyer for Cozen O’Connor.
In both cases, the employer may have to pay for the vaccine or reasonable accommodation.
Not putting a policy in place could also cause moral and psychological conflict in the workplace, says Alissa Kranz, a labor attorney at Tampa-based law firm Lieser Skaff Alexander. Employees may have concerns about going into a workplace where one or more co-workers have not been vaccinated.
Schmidt also notes that vaccine guidance will likely be released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which deals with Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA. So it may be worth waiting for more information before you create a plan. Read the full story from Inc.