Can employers force workers to get COVID-19 vaccine? Virginia gives businesses the option

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — While many remain skeptical of a COVID-19 vaccine, Virginians wondering if their employers can require their workers to get the injection may not be up for debate.

The short answer is yes but with some exceptions.

The looming concern comes following a recent study by National Geographic that shows about 60 percent of Americans are on board with the vaccine. The remaining 40 percent could be forced to get a vaccine, anyway, says one local official.

Cherie Parson, an employment attorney in Chesterfield, says Virginia is an “employment-at-will” state, meaning terms and conditions are set by the business.

There are some exceptions, however, including disabilities and religious beliefs.

“It does not have to be mainstream faiths, in certain cases, those person’s beliefs may limit or restrict them from obtaining, so we’ll see them go through the lens and if necessary, making the appropriation,” Parson said.

So, the question becomes, how do employers handle workers who are exempt? They can allow them to work remotely, in more isolated spaces, or increase their PPE, Parson suggests.

She adds that with the uncertainty of the vaccine, their is a belief that many employers will stray away from a vaccine mandate. She simply encourages workers to get one, however.

“Understanding some of the fear surrounding vaccines, employers may go for more of a recommendation because of possible liabilities and outcomes or side effects that many occur,” Parson said.

The CDC says healthcare workers in the United States could be among the first to get access to the vaccine.

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