Can You Require That Employees Get Vaccinated?

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Legal experts weigh in on whether meeting organizations, hoteliers and others in the meetings and events space can mandate that their employees get vaccinated—as well as those who service their meetings.

You can require that employees who serve your meetings and events get vaccinated, said legal experts during a recent webinar held by eCornell, Cornell University’s online learning platform. “There’s not a general right to privacy from your employer,” said David Sherwyn, John and Melissa Ceriale Professor of Hospitality Human Resources and Academic Director of the Cornell Center for Innovative Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER). “The employer is generally within its rights to require it.”

However, the panelists added, there are a few caveats:

Religious Objections to Getting Vaccinated

Employers do need to provide “reasonable accommodation” for employees who have religious objections to being vaccinated, as required under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, said David Ritter, Partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

However, “It’s not very hard for an employer to show an undue hardship on their business under the religious standard,” said Christine Hogan, Partner, Wigdor, LLP.

Medical Objections to Getting Vaccinated

Employees also can legally object on medical grounds under the American with Disabilities Act — and the medical standard is much more stringent than the religious de minimus standard.

However, “reasonable accommodation,” Hogan said, doesn’t just mean letting unvaccinated workers continue to work in the environment with everyone else. “We also need to protect the safety of the rest of the employees in your workplace. And that’s not just a moral requirement, it’s a legal requirement under OSHA,” as well as some state laws.

But Do You Really Want to Go There?

Abigail Charpentier, Vice President, People & Culture at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, said that while legal considerations are important, “Is this really the battle that we want to have?” Instead of mandating vaccination, she recommended educating the workforce on the benefits of vaccination. “Our position has been, except where government mandated, that we’re going to lead with education and help people make that choice.”

The panelists also agreed that there’s no legal reason to avoid providing an incentive of some kind to spur employees to get vaccinated, but they advised starting with education. It’s also legal to provide vaccination at the workplace to remove any barriers, they said.

What About Those Who Serve Their Meetings?

John Boardman, president of Local 25, UNITE HERE, said,I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request for the customer to stake out that position, nor do I think it’s an unreasonable request for the employer to establish it as a brand identity.”

Can You Ask Attendees to Be Vaccinated?

“That’s between you and your participants,” said Charpentier, adding that, given the religious and medical objection accommodations they would be required to make, she would advise planners to speak with their attorneys before setting any policies.

First and foremost, it’s about the safety of the environment for our team members and for our guests,” she said. “There’s a number of different methods that we already have, from masking and social distancing, and then continuing to encourage and educate around the vaccine. That we think is part of the path out of this.”

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