Can companies require COVID-19 vaccine, fire those who refuse?

BOSTON — Convincing the U.S. population to take the COVID-19 vaccine is expected to come with challenges, but some may not have a choice down the line.

Boston 25 News spoke with a legal expert and HR consultant who both believe employers will be within their rights to require the vaccination as a health and safety work rule.

Many employers are already in the process of figuring out how to communicate to their workforces about the vaccine.

The way in which companies chose to approach the topic will likely vary depending on workplace.

“There are some workplace settings like meat processing plants and other food processing plants where there could be a concern on the effect to the food supply,” said Renee Landers, Director of Health and Biomedical Law Concentration at Suffolk Law School.

Landers believes encouraging the vaccine opposed to requiring it would be a more constructive approach in the beginning.

“Employers could offer discounts on health insurance as an incentive as part of an employee wellness program,” said Landers. “I think health care and employers and the government will have to be offering a lot of communication on why the vaccine is safe, why the data shows that and what the risk benefit tradeoff is.”

Landers said state and federal law is on the employer’s side with some religious and medical exceptions.

“The employer, if it’s reasonable, would have to accommodate a disability and not require the person to have the vaccine,” explained Landers.

If a workplace is unionized, a collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with the union before mandating a vaccine.

“You’ve seen companies be so vigilant in providing secure and safe environments during COVID. I think you’re going to see regulations about people who are vaccinated and their return to work,” said Elaine Varelas, Managing Director of Boston-based Keystone Partners.

Landers and Varelas told Boston 25 News it’s unlikely that employers will require the vaccine until it receives full FDA approval.

“It will depend on what data is released by the FDA with the vaccine,” added Landers. “It doesn’t have the full gambit of testing and experience and scrutiny that a vaccine that’s been in longer use may have had.”

If an employer chooses to mandate the vaccine, the company would not be liable should an employee develop side effects.

Instead, legal experts expect that any claims would be routed through worker’s compensation programs and treated as on-the-job injuries.

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