The recent rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has caused employers to ask whether they may require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to keep their workplaces safe. New Jersey and New York have led the nation in terms of positive test results and deaths.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined coronavirus vaccinations can be mandated without violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, disability-related inquiries must by law be "job-related and consistent with business necessity." Moreover, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) employers may enforce a mandatory vaccine policy against workers who cite safety fears, because that objection isn't covered under any of the LAD's legal exemptions.
Nonetheless, employees may object to the mandatory enforcement of a vaccine policy based on legitimate concerns and needs. For instance, workers may have a disability or a faith based objection to the vaccine which, in all likelihood would be protected under the NJLAD against discrimination for religion, disability and even a perceved disability.
Although employers can mandate the vaccine, it may be better to just strongly encourage or incentivize the vaccine in order to avoid potential discrimination issues. Many employers have opted to implement a voluntary program together with a strong educational program to get employees more comfortable with the idea. Indeed, a large number of people are still skeptical about the vaccine and the speed at which it received regulatory approval.
While it certainly is important to promote a healthy workforce, employers may be better served to encourage voluntary vaccination and provide educational programs. It is best for employers to formulate a strategy now for when vaccines do become generally available to the public.