On October 25th, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced additions to their COVID-19 vaccine guidance. In short, it provides employers with crucial information on how to avoid possible workplace discrimination claims during the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, as the number receiving COVID-19 vaccines rises, the EEOC wanted to address employers’ questions. Overall, the agency updated 15 questions and answers since the last release of COVID-19 vaccine guidance in June 2021. Also, in June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to overturn a President Donald Trump-era EEOC employment bias rule.
Background of the Guidance
Chiefly in a “question and answer” format, the updated resource covers EEOC topics important to employers dealing with COVID-19 ramifications. Further, the subject matter discussed falls under the EEOC’s enforcement of workplace anti-discrimination laws, including the following:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
- Rehabilitation Act;
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); and
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
In addition, the guidance also addresses COVID-19 compliance and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII).
Before the addition of information on COVID-19 vaccinations, the guidance included the following topics:
- Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams;
- Hiring and Onboarding;
- Reasonable Accommodations;
- Pandemic-Related Harassment; and
- Returning to Work
Overview of the Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance
Generally, the critical updates to the technical assistance include the following statements:
- Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees entering the workplace. However, this action is subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations.
- Employers may provide employees and their family members with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines, raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination, and address common questions and concerns.
- Employees must tell their employer if they are requesting an exception to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of a conflict between that requirement and their sincerely held religious beliefs.
- If an employer asks employees about their COVID-19 vaccination status, it is not considered likely to disclose the existence of a disability.
- Employees who seek an exemption from a vaccination requirement due to pregnancy must not face discrimination compared to other employees similar in their ability or inability to work.
In conclusion, the EEOC wants to remind employers that all EEO laws are in full effect during the global pandemic. Therefore, employers need to remain vigilant in complying with all applicable EEO regulations. In addition to the new COVID-19 vaccine guidance, the EEOC adds further information about COVID-19 regularly. Subsequently, to keep up to date on the news involving anti-discrimination laws and COVID-19, employers can visit the EEOC Newsroom. While many EEOC laws apply to employers with 15+ employees, many states have laws prohibiting job discrimination. To prevent possible fines or lawsuits, employers need to investigate which, if any, state-specific anti-discrimination laws they need to follow.