As many workplaces weigh the pros and cons of returning employees to a physical office during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, employee vaccination has quickly become a top concern. Employers and employees alike wonder if vaccination will be required in order for workers to return to physical office space, as well as what the associated costs will be and who will bear them. While each workplace and its policies are unique, it’s important to examine the legalities of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace.
COVID-19 Vaccinations In The Workplace
The announcement of several effective COVID-19 vaccines at the end of 2020 undoubtedly provided employers looking to return to a physical office some sense of relief. Currently in Texas, only those who are frontline healthcare workers, residents in long-term care facilities, those who are 65 and older, and those who are at least 16 with certain medical conditions are able to receive the vaccine. While the Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca vaccines have been shown to lead to immunity in large portions of those vaccinated with fairly mild side effects, it will likely be another several months before the general public can receive their doses.
Despite this, however, it’s important to examine how workplace policies on employee vaccination will come to exist or those already in place will evolve, as vaccines become available over time. One of the main questions that need answering is whether or not employers can require employees to be vaccinated before allowing them to return to work.
Can My Business Purchase The Coronavirus Vaccine?
While some business owners may have had plans to purchase doses of the vaccine, this actually isn’t currently possible. Currently, only the federal government is authorized to purchase the vaccine; however, as more people become vaccinated and the pandemic starts to slow its spread, vaccines could become available to purchase in the future.
Should On-Site Vaccination Clinics Be Set Up?
Employers can potentially set up on-site vaccination clinics by the end of 2021, as the supply of COVID-19 vaccines will likely be sufficient to distribute them to the general population. Additionally, with lower rates of community spread, more workers are likely to return to a physical office. It’s important to note that because all but one of the currently approved and available vaccines require a second dose three to four weeks after the first, employers will need to carefully consider the vaccine brand they administer as well as their own obligations with regard to the timing of all necessary doses.
How Much Will Vaccines Cost and Who Pays for Them?
As mandated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, all employer-sponsored health insurance plans will cover COVID-19 vaccines – with a no-cost share – for 15 days after the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is a new rule specifically for COVID-19, as in most cases plans are only required to cover recommended preventive services without member cost-share for one full year after the recommendation is approved.
In addition, the federal government will purchase and distribute all doses through both state and local health departments. Because of this, it’s likely employer-sponsored plans will only be responsible for payment of administration fees rather than the full cost of the vaccine. Employers will be able to cover the total cost through the medical and pharmacy benefits of a group health plan, making it much easier for employees to get vaccinated.
Can Employers Require Employee Vaccination?
In short — yes and no. While it may be tempting for employers to require a coronavirus vaccine in order for employees to return to in-person workplaces, they would be wise to refrain from requiring it until adequate supply is available. Some workplaces with high-risk employees – including healthcare facilities, manufacturers, and essential or frontline workers – could choose to require employee vaccination.
It’s important to note that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may trigger exceptions; and, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may issue guidance for employers on vaccine administration. Because of these caveats, employers should delay drafting any contract language that includes a vaccine mandate for now.
Texas Employment Law Attorneys
As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out to the general public over time, workplace disputes may arise as employers seek to require employee vaccination in order to return to a physical office. Because these situations and other workplace disputes are often complex, it’s important to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. At Feldman & Feldman, we have represented employees and employers alike in complex employment law disputes since our firm’s inception. If you are interested in preventing workplace disputes or are currently faced with an employment law issue, our team can help. Contact us today for more information.