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Can workplaces require employees to be vaccinated?

Published: May. 25, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As people have easier access to COVID-19 vaccines, the debate about whether businesses can require vaccination from employees and patrons continues to heat up. Attorneys say they are getting lots of questions as people return to the office.

For one local non-profit organization, it’s clear.

“We put a mandatory vaccination policy in place,” Karen Cassidy, Executive Director of Hildegard House said.

If you want to work or volunteer at Hildegard House, you have to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

”It would only take one person to bring COVID into our house and we would have to close down again,” Cassidy said.

Hildegard House provides a home and care for people at the end of life who have no home or loved ones to care for them. They decided to have a vaccination mandate because what they do is so personal.

”You can’t do social distancing at the end of life,” Cassidy said. “Some people say well getting a vaccine is really a personal decision. At Hildegard House we are modeling what it is like when you look out for the common good. You look out for other people beside yourself.”

The policy caused some employees to leave.

“All of our night shift decided not be vaccinated,” Cassidy said. “Because they knew we had a mandatory vaccination policy they were making the decision themselves not to come back to work.”

Demetrius Holloway, an attorney at Stites & Harbison PLLC, said he’s been getting a lot of questions about legal rights of business and employees. Policies like the one at Hildegard house are legit.

Holloway said businesses have the right to ask about the vaccine status of employees and patrons.

”The CDC’s saying it’s a safety issue and not medical related inquiry,” Holloway said. “Employers can ask employees to show their vaccination card. However, we know this information is confidential.”

There are exceptions like for people who have disabilities or religious objections.

Holloway said employers should also be prepared to work with people to see if there’s a reasonable accommodation that can be made.

”I think termination is last resort,” Holloway said. “Maybe you can move them into a different position for a period of time. Some type of accommodation within that workplace. Pretty much, an employer can require it.”

The Hildegard House vaccination expectation also goes for visitors, who have to show proof. If unvaccinated, they have to undergo weekly COVID testing.

”It’s kind of the right thing to do, not put our neighbor at risk,” Cassidy said.

If you are applying for a job, can a prospective employer ask you for proof of vaccination?

“You can’t ask any disability-related questions until there has been a conditional offer of employment made,” Holloway said. “You have to say ‘I want to hire you, you got the job and I need to check these couple of items’ and then you can ask questions about a vaccination and go from there.”

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