Can my employer force me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

covid-19 vaccine

Employers mandating the COVID-19 vaccine is a concern for a lot of employees. As offices begin to open, employers are requiring their employees to show proof of vaccination. Many employees question how a company can force something upon their body, and whether it is legal to do so.

If you do not have a valid legal reason, like a religious belief or disability, your employer may be able to require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine under federal law. You may soon be protected under state law, as there are over 40 states with pending legislation limiting employers involvement with mandating vaccinations. However, as of today, all legislation is still pending (see below).

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Federal Employment Laws

According to guidance from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, private employers can generally require that all worksite employees get vaccinated as long as they comply with federal laws that prohibit on the basis of religion and disability. This means that, under federal law, your employer can require the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment. Refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine without a valid legal reason, can result in termination.

If you have a valid legal reason, like a religious belief or disability, your employer will determine if you pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other employees. If so, your employer should provide you with an accommodation, like allowing you to work from home. However, if your employer can show that providing you with an accommodation causes undue hardship on the company, they still may be able to terminate your employment.

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State Employment Laws

Over 40 states are considering legislation intended to prevent employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. Some states are considering prohibiting employers from mandating vaccines outright, others recommend requiring it for medical professions only and others preventing employers from taking adverse action against employees who refuse the vaccine. There is no universal state law, so you will have to refer to your specific state legislation for information. Husch Blackwell, a national law firm, has provided updates on the legislation in each state: 50-state Update on Pending Legislation Pertaining to Employer-mandated Vaccinations.

What Can Be Done

If you do not have a valid legal reason and your employer is mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, you should address your concerns with your employer. If you are a valued employee, your employer may work with you to provide an accommodation. Recommend working remotely, workspace separate from employees or alternative hours. If you lie to your employer, and you are terminated, you may have a hard time getting a good reference.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It provides general information and is not intended and should not be construed as professional advice. The author is not your attorney, accountant, financial planner or any other professional and no professional-client relationship is created. We do not represent that the information provided is accurate or up-to-date as laws and regulations are always changing. If you have an issue that requires professional help, you should contact the appropriate professional to help you on your specific set of facts. Please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information.

Alicia L.

Alicia Lillegard has over 20 years of experience in employment law, human resources and insurance, working with with large blue chip companies, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Lillegard is currently Managing Director of New England Human Capital, a human resources consultancy which advises small and midsize businesses on Human Resources compliance, including employment procedures, employee relations and employee benefits. She holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School.

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2 Comments

  1. What about the OTHER side of this question? I am nearing my 2nd week after 2nd Vax and I want to go back to work, in the office and not ‘remote’ where I can barely do that job. BUT, it is my EMPLOYER that is refusing to get the vaccine; what do I do, what are MY rights? Am I out of a job because my employer has no regard for me or the fact that I’m considered “at risk”? No one seems to want to address this, or has no answer, am I treated as an indentured? Is this a Biden thing?

    1. Thank you for your comment/questions. You are correct that there seems to be frustrations on both sides. I understand that this is not what you want to hear, but if it is not a company policy to require vaccinations, employers do not have to get vaccinated. However, per the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employees are entitled to a safe workplace. If an employee feels that their employer is not taking appropriate steps to protect them from exposure to the virus at work (i.e. requiring masks, sanitized environment, workspace of at least 6 feet apart, etc.), they have a right to file a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (https://www.osha.gov/workers/file-complaint). Also, if an employee is considered ‘high risk” the employer may also have to provide an accommodation. If there is another accommodation other than working remotely, you should consider addressing it with your employer. If your employer is not providing a safe work environment per OSHA recommendations or not providing an acceptable accommodation, I encourage you to speak with an employment attorney in your state.

      (Responses to comments do not create an attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this comment should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of an attorney in your state).

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