Can your employer mandate you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Posted at 12:15 PM, Mar 04, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. - Mandatory vaccination in the workplace is uncharted territory. It hasn't gone before the court, meaning there are no rulings currently to help employers or employees.

"If you google pandemic law, you simply won't find it," said Ray Hogge, an employment and labor law attorney in Norfolk.

Hogge says the legalities around this topic are coming to light. "Employers have wide latitude and discretion to do what is necessary for legitimate interest of their business," he said.

A Norfolk woman recently found that out. She would like to remain anonymous, but this week she claims she was fired from her job at a Norfolk eye clinic for refusing to get vaccinated.

"They decided to terminate my employment due to insubordination and misconduct because I made a decision to violate company policy," she told News 3.

The woman said she didn't want to take the vaccine mandate because she is trying to conceive and also feels there's not enough research to support it. "It is a very personal decision whether or not to receive the vaccine, and it's sad that management has a hard time seeing that," she said.

So, it begs the question -- can an employer require you to go get the shot in the Commonwealth?

"The answer is yes," said Hogge. "Unless there is a statutory issue such as a religious belief or a medical issue like a disability act that will come into play," he said.

Valid medical reasons and religious beliefs could hold up as an exemption, says Hogge.

Hogge says potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace.

The Norfolk woman did give her employee her doctors recommendation thinking she would be exempt, but she still received a letter letting her go as of March 1.

"It makes me sad my employer couldn't respect that decision and work with me to keep a successful employee," she said.

Hoggee said the employee acted accordingly by opening up a conversation, he suggests employers write a COVID-19 policy so there is no grey area and it will help them analyze an ever changing climate.

"This will help weight risks and benefits," he said.

For more information from the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding vaccinations click here.