The federal government agency that protects workers from discrimination issued new guidance this week to help inform Americans of their legal protections as more employers ask them to come back to the office or other workplaces.
A new guidance document from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said employers can legally require COVID-19 vaccines to re-enter a physical workplace as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or because they have religious objections.
The EEOC said employers should keep in mind that, because not everyone has equal access to vaccines, some individuals or groups could have a harder time complying with a vaccination requirement.
Employers are also allowed to offer incentives for employees to voluntarily confirm their vaccination status but those should be optional and employers should not pressure employees into sharing their medical information. Any medical information shared with the employer, including vaccination records, must be kept confidential.
Federal law also says employees have a right to reasonable accommodation if they can't get the vaccine due to medical concerns or religious objections, and EEOC reminds employees they are legally protected from harassment such as anti-Asian bias or if they feel they are not being allowed to work because they are high risk from COVID-19.
Employers are required to provide a safe workplace, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which includes assessing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and developing a plan to protect employees which could include requiring the vaccine, providing protective equipment like masks, and setting capacity limits on the workplace.
OSHA has not yet issued an enforceable rule specific to COVID-19 protections but can still cite employers who the agency finds failed to adequately protect employees from exposure to the virus.