As we move toward a COVID-19 vaccine becoming a reality, many questions come to mind.
- When will a vaccine become available?
- When will a vaccine become available for me?
- Will the vaccine be mandated?
- Can my employer mandate I take the vaccine?
- What happens to my job if my employer mandates I take the vaccine and I refuse?
The honest answer to these questions, and others related to a vaccine for COVID-19, is “we don’t know yet.” There is little doubt we will be able to answer many of these questions once a vaccine is approved by the FDA, and any related governmental mandates are made public. However, for those in the healthcare world who are planning ahead, we may be able to look to how the flu vaccine is handled for some preliminary guidance. Healthcare employers can implement a mandatory flu vaccine policy for healthcare staff working with the sick and the elderly. However, an employer must respect an employee’s right under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to decline to take the flu vaccine if doing so would be contrary to a sincerely held religious belief. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act allows for an employee to decline to take the flu vaccine if they have a disability that would make taking the flu vaccine contraindicated. Accommodations for employees under these two exemptions would be required to remain compliant with Title VII and the ADA. Allowing an exempt employee to work in a position where they would not have contact with sick or elderly individuals is required by an employer, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.
So, what does this mean for Senior Living providers as it relates to a COVID-19 vaccine? Unfortunately, we remain in a “wait and see” mode until the CDC, CMS, and/or the EEOC issues directives specific to a COVID-19 vaccine. Once those mandates are made public, we should (hopefully) have enough information to develop a COVID-19 vaccine policy that safeguards our staff and those residents and families who we have the privilege to serve.