Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Can you require vaccines for your employees?

You may heard that we have a bit of a measles issue going on around the country.

At his HR Solutions blog, and on his Twitter, Make Haberman asked, “Are measles protected by the ADA?”

The ADA no longer carves-out “short-term” impairments from its definition of “disability.” Thus, there is an argument to be made that the measles could qualify as an ADA-disability, provided that it substantially limits a major life activity of the sufferer. Given that one only suffers from measles symptoms (albeit rather severe symptoms) for a week or so, I have my doubts that a one-week impairment “substantially limits a major life activity” of the sufferer. No matter how loosely the Act’s 2009 amendments liberalized the definition of “disability,” I can’t imagine Congress intended the ADA to apply to short-term viruses.

Whether or not the ADA covers the measles as a disability, if you are going to fire an employee who cannot come to work because of the measles (FMLA notwithstanding), you need to engage in some serious self reflections about the type of employer you are.

Of course, if everyone was vaccinated against the measles, we wouldn’t need to have this discussion. So, can you require that your employees present proof of vaccination as a condition of employment? Here’s what the EEOC has to say on the issue:

An employee may be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination requirement based on an ADA disability that prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine. This would be a reasonable accommodation barring undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). Similarly, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship as defined by Title VII (“more than de minimis cost” to the operation of the employer’s business, which is a lower standard than under the ADA).

Generally, ADA-covered employers should consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it.

At least as far as the EEO laws are concerned, private employers can require vaccinations, as long as you are willing to accommodate employees’ disabilities and religions.