CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) — With full approval being granted to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, many businesses and schools are now able to require that staff or students receive their vaccinations. But what are the exceptions to this wave of rules?
Enshrined in Massachusetts law
Under MGL c.111 § 181, Boards of Health (BOH) have the ability to “require and enforce the vaccination and revaccination of all the inhabitants of their towns” if they believe doing so will promote public safety of all town residents. While to date no BOH in the state have set this requirement out, the law also states that failure to comply will result in a fine of $5. MGL c.111 § 182 extends this any institution that receives funding from the Commonwealth. Meaning that any business that receives state funding can require employees to get the shot if the local BOH believes the mandate is in the interest of public health. The only exception to these laws is outlined in MGL c.111 § 183.
“Any person over eighteen presenting a certificate, signed by the register of a probate court, that he is under guardianship shall not be subject to section one hundred and eighty-one; and any child presenting a certificate, signed by a registered physician designated by the parent or guardian, that the physician has at the time of giving the certificate personally examined the child and that he is of the opinion that the physical condition of the child is such that his health will be endangered by vaccination, shall not, while such condition continues, be subject to the two preceding sections.”MGL c.111 § 183
The above laws are not exclusive to the COVID-19 vaccination but can apply to any vaccine available. According to Mass.gov, there are few rules surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination. Under federal employment law, employers have the right to require employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Employers have the legal right to mandate that their employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination, according to guidance released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Dec. 16, 2020.
Exemptions at the federal level
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are a few exemptions for people with legitimate reasons to not get the vaccine. These reasons include a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance and are protected by Title VII and the ADA which require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who do not get vaccinated for COVID-19. This unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
Can my employer require I get a COVID-19 Vaccine?
Yes, provided that the vaccine requirement does not “treat employees differently based on disability, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, age, or genetic information, unless there is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.”
If I have a disability, can my employer require me to get the vaccine?
Yes, according to the EEOC, if certain requirements are met by the employer, they can require the vaccine. Under the ADA, an employer can require those with a disability to meet a qualification standard applied to all employees. The safety-related standard of requiring COVID-19 vaccination, is included in this if the standard is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
What if I have a sincerely held religious belief?
In this case, according to the EEOC, once an employer has been notified that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents them from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship on the business. Under Title VII, employers are required to respect religious request even if they are unfamiliar with that religion or sincerely held belief. However, if the request is unfamiliar to the employer or goes against a pre-existing understanding of the employee’s held beliefs, the employer may ask for supporting documentation.
Under Title VII, courts define “undue hardship” as having more than minimal cost or burden on the employer.
Additional details can be found on the EEOC’s website.
This article was not written by a legal professional and should not be considered legal advice. Anyone seeking legal advice should consult with a lawyer.