U.S. Agency Makes Clear Companies Can Require Workers to Be Vaccinated Against COVID

Updated statements from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) say that U.S. companies and employers are allowed to require their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

On Friday, the EEOC updated its guidance to include that employers can mandate vaccines, as well as legally incentivize the vaccination, as long as the incentive is not coercive.

For employees exempt from mandatory vaccination, employers must comply with accommodation requirements, such as the Disabilities Act and other laws. The EEOC highlighted reasonable accommodations, including continuing to wear a mask, working at a social distance, or working virtually if applicable.

EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement that these new guidances are responses to frequently asked questions in the employment context.

"The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our COVID-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy-to-understand, and helpful information," Burrows stated.

Federal laws do not prevent companies or employers from incentivizing immunization, either, according to the EEOC. According to the commission's statement: "Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information."

However, some experts are concerned that the incentivization could provide too much of a gray area. Employment attorney Helen Rella thinks that the level of "coercion" in incentives is dependent on the employee, reported CBS News.

"What is 'coercive' is unclear because, just as with anything else," she said, "one person's view of what is a coercive incentive is not the same as another person's."

Rella added: "You might find an incentive of $100 coercive and another person might find an incentive of $10,000 coercive. That's where the door is left open [where] we don't have the detailed guidance we were hoping to receive."

Michelle S. Strowhiro, an employment adviser and lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery, echoes Rella in believing that some legal issues may arise. According to the AP, Strowhiro says that because of the caution, a lot of companies may just highly recommend vaccinations without making them mandatory.

Walmart has recently been offering a $75 bonus to any employee who can prove they have been vaccinated, the AP reported. Other companies, like American Airlines, Kroger, Target and Amtrak, are giving their employees bonuses of some kind for being vaccinated.

Additionally, a poll by the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute said that about 70 percent of recent and current CEOs of major companies showed a general "openness" to mandating vaccines.

Newsweek reached out to EEOC for additional comment.

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WHEATON, MARYLAND - MAY 21: Maryland National Guard PFC Caitlyn Conver fills a syringe with a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine during a clinic at CASA de Maryland's Wheaton Welcome Center on May 21, 2021 in Wheaton, Maryland. Updated guidance from the EEOC revealed Friday that employers and companies can now mandate the vaccination of their employees. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)