As many of us prepare to return to work after a year-plus of pandemic life, the same questions seem to be everywhere: Do I have to be vaccinated to go back to the office? Can my employer require it? Does my employer have to give me time off to get vaccinated?
Below, find answers to all these questions and more, with commentary from Southern California–based attorney and labor law expert Cheryl Priest Ainsworth.
Once and for all: Is it legal for my workplace to say I have to show proof of vaccination to return?
Yes, it’s legal, at least according to recent guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “Different workplaces are going to feel more or less comfortable with requiring the vaccine, but generally speaking, they can,” notes Priest Ainsworth.
What potential hurdles exist for workplaces requiring proof of vaccination?
“The issue is going to be if an employee asserts some kind of religious or medical exemption as to why they shouldn’t be required to get the vaccine,” explains Priest Ainsworth. “If that’s the case, then an employer needs to evaluate a reasonable accommodation. It depends on the kind of workplace it is, but if it’s an office, that might be working in an office with a mask on, or working remotely.”
How is this issue playing out state by state?
“We’re hearing different things from different states,” says Priest Ainsworth, bringing up California as an example: “Even though California is going to end the mask mandate on June 15, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now saying, ‘Well, for workplace guidelines, if somebody isn’t vaccinated, then every employee in the same room as that person needs to wear a face mask.’ So there are going to be interesting accommodations. The question is, what’s a reasonable accommodation for the employee who refuses to or can’t get vaccinated versus the impact on all the other employees who work around that employee? So there are probably going to be lots of complaints to the EEOC and to various employers.”
Does my employer have to give me time off to get vaccinated?
Like so many vaccine-related questions, the answer to this one varies dependent on what state you’re in, but in New York, at least, employees must receive a paid leave of absence for “a sufficient period of time” not to exceed four hours per vaccine injection. In other words, employees may be entitled to up to eight hours of paid time off if receiving a two-injection COVID-19 vaccine, and employers can’t take this time out of other sick leave or vacation time.
Originally Appeared on Vogue