EEOC Updates Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccinations

By Douglas Lipsky

Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance on Covid-19 vaccinations and federal anti-discrimination laws.  As businesses in New York and around the country reopen their offices, many employers are mandating Covid-19 vaccinations for employees entering the workplace.

The best way for employers and employees to understand the implications of coronavirus vaccinations in the workplace is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. In the meantime, this blog is a brief overview of the EEOC’s updated and expanded guidance.

Covid-19 Vaccines and Federal Employment Laws

The EEOC is tasked with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws as they relate to Covid-19 vaccine mandates. These laws include: 

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

The EEOC’s updated guidance covers matters ranging from Covid-19 vaccination status and vaccine mandates to employee requests for reasonable accommodations to Covid-19 safety measures. Key points of the guidance include:

Vaccine Mandates Are Permissible

Federal anti-discrimination laws do not prevent employers from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. However, employers must (1) comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII and (2) ensure that vaccine requirements do not have a disparate impact on employees based on a legally protected characteristic under Title VII (e.g. race, color, religion, sex, national origin).

Employers Can Offer Incentives

Employers are permitted to offer incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or confirmation of vaccination status from third parties (e.g. pharmacy, personal health care provider, public clinic). However, employers that obtain employee vaccination information are required to keep that information private according to the ADA and GINA. Also, employers may offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated, either from a third party or the employer. 

Informing Employees About Covid-19 Vaccines

Federal laws do not prevent employers from informing employees and their family members about Covid-19 vaccines and raising awareness about the benefits of vaccination. The guidance also provides links to resources about the vaccines that can be shared with employees. 

Finally, the EEOC’s updated guidance concerns COVID-19 vaccination mandates under federal antidiscrimination laws, but there are other applicable federal, state, and local laws for employers to consider. 

The Takeaway

Ultimately, employers have wide latitude to implement Covid-19 vaccine mandates for employees entering the workplace. Moreover, once the Food and Drug Administration formally approves the vaccines currently in use under the emergency authorization, vaccine mandates are likely to become commonplace. 

Given the potential for employment discrimination claims related to religious and medical exemptions under Title VII and the ADA, it takes a skilled employment law attorney to help you navigate the new normal.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.