As your trusted partner, we are committed to keeping you up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 employer-related news, and this includes the recent announcement of a viable vaccine. Given this news, many of you are most likely asking yourself, “What does this mean for my business and for my employees?” This is a question that employers across the country are asking. And as with previous COVID-19 developments, available information is relatively limited but continues to be released.
While it is not yet certain when the general public will have the opportunity to receive vaccinations, we expect that vaccine distribution will occur in phases, beginning now with only high-risk healthcare workers, first responders, essential workers, and older adults living in long-term care facilities. It is expected to take many months to vaccinate the entire U.S. population.
Under what process the broader public is to receive vaccinations, when will this begin, how distribution will be handled in different states, and the impact the vaccine will have on employment practices, will become clearer in the coming weeks and months as guidance is provided by state departments of public health, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and other government agencies.
What we know now about an employer’s role and obligations regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is very limited, based on a nuanced framework from other influenza pandemic practices. There are still many questions regarding the safety, efficacy, and distribution of such a vaccine by the public. And while there currently is no law that specifically and explicitly prohibits employers from compelling their employees to take a COVID-19 vaccine, employers face no shortage of legal and employee relations challenges in doing so, especially given that the vaccine has only been authorized for emergency use thus far. With so many looming uncertainties, the safest course of action for employers at this time is to await further guidance and simply recommend that employees follow CDC guidelines with respect to any COVID-19 vaccine.
As public health officials across the country gear up to administer COVID-19 vaccines, rest assured, Synergy continues to monitor the situation with government agencies and its guidance to ascertain how the vaccine will impact employers and employment considerations. It is clear employers face a challenging balance of keeping their employers safe while mitigating legal risks that may be attached to those safety practices. The practical limits on a mandatory vaccination program for employees will depend on guidance or rules issued by the EEOC and OSHA as well as evolving state and federal law. In other words, there are currently more questions than answers, but we can expect to receive more guidance as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available.
We will continue to review updates from the CDC, EEOC and OSHA, so stay tuned for updates!