What Workplace Rules Apply to COVID Vaccines?
There’s good news finally about the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected workers and everyone in numerous ways. More than 350,000 Americans have died due to the disease and nearly 20 million Americans have become infected.
The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration has approved two COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and by Moderna. The vaccines use mRNA technology. Everyone who receives these two vaccines which help their immune system fight the disease – will require two doses.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, North Carolina health officials are setting the priorities for when different classes of people (depending on their work activities, health risks, and age) should be eligible for the vaccine. The December 31, 2020 article outlines the priorities. Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, stated at a press conference, that the state will have a four-part rollout of the vaccines. The plan, which was developed through North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office, will prioritize older people and frontline essential workers.
The North Carolina priorities match the vaccination priorities set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Phase 1a rollout. In this first phase, priority is given to “health care workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, and also long-term care residents and staff.”
- Phase 1b rollout. Here, three groups of North Carolina residents will receive the next two million sets of vaccination. There are sub-priorities in these phases as follows:
- Group 1: People 75 years and older, no matter what underlying conditions they have or don’t have
- Group 2: Health care workers who work with patients and frontline essential workers who are 50 or older.
- Group 3: Health care workers who work with patients and frontline essential workers of any age who have not been vaccinated yet.
How are “frontline essential workers” defined
North Carolina uses the CDC definition of a frontline essential workers. These people are employees who are at the “highest risk for being exposed to the coronavirus” “This phase is expected to begin in early January.” Frontline workers, according to the published article, include:
- First responders like firefighters and police officers
- Grocery store workers
- Childcare workers
- Teachers and education support staff
- Corrections officers
- Food and agricultural workers
- U.S. Postal Service workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Public transit workers
- The Phase 2 rollout. This phase includes the following categories (in the following order) of North Carolina residents:
- People ages 65-74
- People ages 16-64 with high-risk conditions
- People incarcerated and living in other group settings
- “Essential workers.”
How are essential workers defined?
“Essential workers are defined by N.C. DHHS and the CDC as”
- Transportation and logistics workers
- Water and wastewater workers
- Food-service workers
- Shelter and housing workers, including construction
- Finance workers, like bank tellers
- Information technology workers
- Media workers
- Public safety workers like engineers
- Public health workers
- Communications workers
- Energy workers
- Workers in the legal field
- Phase 3 rollout. This phase includes college and university students and students 16 years-of-age and older.
The vaccines are being given to residents just as North Carolina announced likely increases in “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations expected due to Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.”
Can Employers mandate that employees take the vaccine?
According to the Fayetteville Observer, the issue of whether employers can or can’t mandate that their workers be vaccinated is fast becoming a reality – and not a hypothetical. Health officials in North Carolina expect that the general adult population will have enough vaccines during the first half of 2021.
“The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told the USA Today Network it has no plans to mandate vaccinations. But private-sector employers can require workers to get them, labor law experts say.”
According to UNC School of Law professor, Jeffery Hirsch, the private sector can manage employee vaccinations because the “private sector is at-will employment.”
Already, health care providers do mandate that members of the provider’s staff get immunizations for mumps, polio, the yearly flu, and other preventable diseases. According to Duke University School of Law professor, Dan Bowling, “jobs that feature significant customer and coworker interactions often have vaccine requirements.”
Generally, employers need to show that mandating the vaccine is a job-related necessity and “would pose a ‘direct threat to the health or safety of others’ if skipped according to the Americans for Disabilities Act.”
Workers whose job is terminated for noncompliance to these mandates may file EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaints – but “experts say the law favors employers, even when workers seek medical or religious exemptions.” “While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act says employers must reasonably accommodate workers’ religious practices, the law allows employers leniency if these accommodations pose an ‘undue hardship’ on their business. “
Employers are likely to mandate the vaccines for two reasons. The first reason is to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the employer’s business. The second reason is that a large number of people (about 60 to 90%) need to have the vaccines or have been infected – to reach herd immunity. There are concerns that many people will not get the vaccine – even when it becomes clear the vaccines are working.
Health officials in North Carolina are working to assure residents that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Some employers are expected to offer financial incentives (similar to company incentives for insurance rate breaks for non-smokers) to encourage workers to take the vaccines.
So far, hospitals have been hesitant to mandate the vaccines for their staff. “Given the limited experience with the vaccine, there are no current plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for UNC Health employees,’ a UNC Health statement said.”
According to the president of the N.C. Nurses Association, most health care workers are welcoming the vaccine.
All employees are valuable workers. It’s critical that all workers have access to vaccines so they can work on-site instead of remotely. Once workers do return to work at their regular job locations, they will still be at risk for many types of physical injuries and occupational illnesses. If you’re hurt at work for any reason, our experienced North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyers are ready to help you get the benefits you deserve. Call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to schedule an appointment. Employees can now also complete our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way of communicating with our clients that we’re providing this service to allow workers to contact us remotely.
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