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SALT LAKE CITY – Throughout the pandemic, Utah businesses have worked to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Now that people are getting vaccinated, employers face new issues.
The Salt Lake Chamber gave businesses a head start Wednesday on vaccination policies and discussing what is legal and what is not.
Approximately 160 Utah businesses joined a webinar aimed at helping them figure out whether they need a vaccination policy, and if so, what it should contain.
Has your employer created a policy on the COVID-19 vaccine, and will you be required to get one? Lawyers from a solutions-based technology company helped employers sort through the critical questions.
"Businesses need to go into this decision with their eyes open," said Ryan Parker, vice president of product at SixFifty.
Last December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said businesses can require their employees to be vaccinated.
"Businesses are left to choose whether to require their employees to be vaccinated or not," said Parker.
Employees can seek an exemption for either a sincerely held religious belief or a medical condition. The EEOC, however, left the choice up to the businesses.
"Businesses, you can require, in most cases, your employees to be vaccinated," said Parker. "But there is currently no requirement that employers vaccinate or mandate vaccinations for their employees."
Businesses are left to choose whether to require their employees to be vaccinated or not.
–Ryan Parker, V.P. of product, SixFifty
The businesses were left with three options:
- They can require employees to be vaccinated.
- They can encourage employees to be vaccinated without requiring it, which is what KSL-TV's parent company will do.
- Or, they can do nothing.
Any of those options could leave some employees unhappy and uncomfortable.
"This is a controversial issue, and that some people feel very strongly that they want to work in a workplace where everyone is vaccinated, and others feel like they don't want to be told by their employer that they need to be vaccinated," said Parker.
While some other states are setting up vaccination-related rules for businesses, the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Administration gave this recommendation last month.
"It is suggested that you make vaccines available at no cost to your employees, and also that you provide training on the benefits of the vaccine," said Marie Kulbeth, COO and general counsel at SixFifty.
Can you be fired?
If your company requires a vaccine, but you don't want to take it and don't have a medical or religious exemption, can you be fired? The lawyers said it depends. But in many circumstances, the answer is yes.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows an employer to have a qualifications standard that includes a requirement that individuals shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.
"If, as a business, you can see that someone who's not vaccinated would pose a direct threat in your workplace, then that individual no longer meets your qualifications standard and they can be excluded from your workplace," said Parker.
If your company creates a vaccine policy it should be a clear, written policy distributed to all employees that includes reasons for the policy. It should also include a contact you can reach with questions.