Can Employees Lose Their Job for Refusing the COVID-19 Vaccine?
By Gregory Thyberg on June 05, 2021
COVID-19 cases and COVID-related deaths are decreasing across the nation. Control of the pandemic is widely attributed to increased COVID vaccinations. But as vaccinations increase, there are still those who are hesitant to receive the shot, and many wonder how that choice can impact other areas of their life. Primarily, people are starting to ask if employees can lose their job for refusing the COVID vaccine.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine is new, there are not a lot of legal precedents in this area. However, based on existing laws, employment law attorney Gregory Thyberg can help employees in Sacramento, CA, and surrounding areas understand their rights in regards to employment and choosing to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine.
Is It Illegal for Employers to Fire Someone Who Refuses the COVID-19 Vaccine?
California is an at-will employment state. This means that most employees are free to leave their job at any time. Likewise, employers in the state of California can fire an employee at any time, for any legal reason, or without providing a reason at all. Under the at-will employment guidelines, an employee can be legally fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine, if their employer is able to show that refusal of the vaccine poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others in the workplace.
Are there Any Exemptions that Protect Me?
While it is not explicitly illegal for an employer to fire someone who refuses a COVID-19 vaccine, they need to be sure they are in accordance with local and federal employment laws that are already in place. Two employment laws that can have a direct impact on vaccine requirements for Sacramento employees are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
The ADA makes it illegal for an employee to face discrimination on the basis of a physical or mental disability. While the ADA allows for policies that prevent a worker from posing a threat to the health and safety of others in the workplace, it requires that employers attempt to provide reasonable accommodations to those who cannot meet the requirement due to their disability. In the case of a vaccine, employers would be expected to offer reasonable accommodations if an employee is unable to receive a vaccine due to their disability.
Title VII requires employers to uphold an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances, unless it would place a hardship on the business. As with the ADA, policies regarding workplace health and safety are allowed under Title VII, but employers are required to offer reasonable accommodations if the policy is in conflict with the employee’s religion. Therefore, if an employee refuses the COVID-19 vaccine for religious reasons, reasonable accommodations should be offered.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
If an employer chooses to create a written policy making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, they must stay compliant with the ADA and Title VII by offering reasonable accommodations to employees who refuse the vaccine on the basis of disability or religion. Examples of reasonable accommodations that may be requested by Sacramento employees include:
- Allowing the employee to work from home
- Limiting employee contact with others
- Altering job duties so that the vaccine is less critical
- Changing the employee’s work hours
- Allowing for a leave of absence
If you have more questions about COVID-19 vaccine requirements in the workplace, attorney Gregory Thyberg would be happy to meet with you personally. To set up a legal consultation, send us a message online at your earliest convenience, or call our office at (916) 204-9173.