Next up in our Real Time Video Chat series, David Ashmore, Carl De Cicco and Alison Heaton explore the latest trends and issues regarding workplace vaccination policies in the UK. The group discusses the current statutory position on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, sick pay policies affecting the unvaccinated and what the term “fully vaccinated” means
As we previously reported, earlier this year New York lawmakers passed a law requiring that all Empire State employers provide their employees with up to four hours of paid time off to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Shortly thereafter, the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) published guidance on the measure, clarifying that: (i)…
In addition to the issue of mandated COVID-19 vaccine policies, employers must also manage the related privacy risks. Below are some of the frequently asked questions surrounding the issues of employee privacy as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccine. We also have a downloadable version of our privacy FAQs.
Question: Does it matter what type of information the company asks employees to provide to confirm their vaccine status?
Answer: Absolutely. Asking employees to confirm yes/no information seeks different information than, for example, requesting a copy of the employee’s vaccination card or more detailed records (such as lab results confirming presence of antibodies from a medical provider). Companies should be mindful of what information they are requesting because the inquiry might trigger heightened data-privacy and document-retention requirements. Companies should request only the information they require to confirm the vaccination status of the employee and should not collect any other information that is not necessary for that purpose. Companies should also be mindful of the privacy, security and other legal requirements involved in communicating with employees about any requested exception to a mandatory vaccine program based on a medical condition. The interactive process would likely include asking employees disability-related questions—and potentially questions implicating genetic nondiscrimination and health-data privacy laws (such as GINA or HIPAA).
Question: Our company plans to require employees to provide proof of their vaccine status by emailing human resources a copy of their vaccine card. Does this present any data-privacy concerns?
Answer: There are several issues to consider. How secure is your company’s email system? Can employees access their work email on their phones? If so, are there password and other security measures in place to prevent unauthorized access to that information? What does HR plan to do with the information once it receives it? Will it be printed out and stored in a paper file? Does the company plan to insert that information into the employee’s personnel file and/or HR database? Who would have access to that information? If the company plans on storing the data electronically, does the company have sole possession, custody and control of the servers where the data will be stored? If so, the company may want to confirm where those servers are physically located, and whether any state or local laws of that jurisdiction impose additional data-privacy, data-security and breach-notification requirements.
It’s worth noting here that HIPAA does not typically apply to the relationship between an employer and its employees. That being said, employers should still follow best practices and remain sensitive to the fact that they requesting and maintaining potentially sensitive employee health data. Additionally, if an employer performs services that are regulated under HIPAA, employees could be due additional protections. In this set of circumstances, an employer could be maintaining different data sets about an employee – of which one is regulated under HIPAA, and the other is not.
Continue Reading FAQs on US employee privacy issues related to the COVID-19 vaccine
Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) issued the first approvals for a COVID-19 vaccine. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) issued guidance on the interplay between federal anti-discrimination law and vaccine-related issues, including the permissibility of mandatory employer vaccination policies. The below FAQs address some of the more salient questions surrounding such policies and their implementation, as well as other workplace issues triggered by the vaccine. There are undeniably more questions than answers at present with respect to vaccine-related workplace issues. Before taking any material workplace action with respect to the vaccine, therefore, please consult with a Reed Smith employment lawyer. We also have a downloadable version of our FAQs.
Q: Can employers adopt a mandatory employee vaccination policy?
A: Generally speaking, yes. In guidance issued in late May 2021, the EEOC took the position that mandatory vaccination policies are generally permissible under federal anti-discrimination laws. Just a few weeks later, in June 2021, a federal court – in the first ruling on this issue – echoed this sentiment in concluding that such policies are generally permissible. The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a detailed memo reaching the same conclusion.
The two primary exceptions to the general permissibility of employer-mandated vaccination policies are for employees with disabilities and for those with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom. If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and objects to a mandatory vaccination policy on one of these grounds, the employer must engage in the so-called interactive process with the employee and, subject to the “undue hardship” standards discussed below, provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation in line with applicable law.
In addition to legally required accommodations, the EEOC also cautions employers to be cognizant of any potential disparate impact created by a vaccine mandate.
Q: Are there state or local laws that address mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies?
A: Employers must pay attention to state laws in the jurisdiction(s) where they operate. Several states have introduced legislation attempting to limit private employers’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. To date, such efforts have been without success other than in Montana.
Q: If an employer adopts a mandatory employee vaccination policy, how should it respond to an employee who indicates that they are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom?
A: As noted, the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee. When an employee objects to vaccination, they are requesting an accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) (for a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (for a disability). The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship. Undue hardship is defined under Title VII as an accommodation that poses a “more than de minimis” cost or burden. For the ADA, undue hardship is more onerous to establish and is defined as creating significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
Continue Reading To mandate or not? FAQs on mandatory vaccine programs for employers
With two COVID-19 vaccines pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccination policies are a hot topic at the employment law water cooler these days. While there is currently no concrete guidance on this issue at the federal, state, or city level, on December 4, New York State lawmakers introduced a bill that could have a substantial impact on such policies.
Specifically, State Assembly Bill A11179 would mandate the vaccination of all individuals or groups of individuals who, as shown by clinical data, are proven to be safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This mandate would only take effect, however, after a vaccine is approved and its promotion and distributions plans have commenced, and if public health officials determine that residents of the state are not developing sufficient immunity from COVID-19. Notably, the Bill includes an exception to the vaccination requirement for “[a]ny individual who has received a medical exemption from a licensed medical professional.”…
Continue Reading New bill would require virtually all New Yorkers to receive COVID-19 vaccination