Balancing Workplace Safety With COVID-19 Vaccine Refusal
Healthcare workers, as well as other employees who have close contact with members of the public, may be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. To date, SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19) is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths in the United States. The pandemic continues to rage across the country as more cases are reported and more infectious strains identified. Vaccines to combat the Coronavirus (the “Virus”) are taking time to distribute to Americans, and scientific evidence indicates that new strains of the Virus may be more infectious and more easily transmitted from person to person than the original version. Employers who are hospitals, healthcare facilities or who manage businesses with employees who come into close contact with members of the public have a duty to take precautions to maintain a safe workplace. See Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations at www.OSHA.gov. While vaccine hesitancy will not likely justify refusing an inoculation, employees may object to taking a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons or based on religious beliefs. Objection to vaccines is not new, and the legal issues have been evaluated by courts, commonly in the context of health care workers’ refusal to get vaccinated. What makes the COVID-19 pandemic different than the seasonal flu (the “Flu”) is the increased transmissibility of the Virus and increased risk for serious complications from the disease. Thus, there may be a need to vaccinate on a more widespread basis beyond healthcare workers and first responders.