Following is new and updated guidance from the EEOC on the impact of laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act on aspects of employer vaccine mandates, touching on issues including the employer’s right to require documentation of vaccination, privacy of that information, and other topics.
Under the ADA, Title VII, and other federal employment nondiscrimination laws, may an employer require all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations discussed below.
In some circumstances, Title VII and the ADA require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, do not get vaccinated against COVID-19, unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. The analysis for undue hardship depends on whether the accommodation is for a disability (including pregnancy-related conditions that constitute a disability) or for religion.
As with any employment policy, employers that have a vaccination requirement may need to respond to allegations that the requirement has a disparate impact on—or disproportionately excludes—employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin under Title VII (or age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act [40+]). Employers should keep in mind that because some individuals or demographic groups may face barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.
It would also be unlawful to apply a vaccination requirement to employees in a way that treats employees differently based on disability, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national origin, age, or genetic information, unless there is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.
How can employers encourage employees and their family members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 without violating the EEO laws, especially the ADA and GINA?
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. Employers also may work with local public health authorities, medical providers, or pharmacies to make vaccinations available for unvaccinated workers in the workplace. Also, under certain circumstances employers may offer incentives to employees who receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The federal government is providing COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to everyone 12 years of age and older.
There are many resources available to employees seeking more information about how to get vaccinated against COVID-19:
The federal government’s online vaccines.gov site can identify vaccination sites anywhere in the country (or https://www.vacunas.gov for Spanish). Individuals also can text their ZIP code to “GETVAX” (438829)–or “VACUNA” (822862) for Spanish–to find three vaccination locations near them.
Employees with disabilities (or employees’ family members with disabilities) may need extra support to obtain a vaccination, such as transportation or in-home vaccinations. The HHS/Administration for Community Living has launched the Disability Information and Assistance Line (DIAL) to assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining such help. DIAL can be reached at: 888-677-1199 from 9 am to 8 pm (Eastern Standard Time) Mondays through Fridays or by emailing DIAL@n4a.org.
CDC’s website offers a link to a listing of local health departments, which can provide more information about local vaccination efforts.
In addition, CDC provides a complete communication “tool kit” for employers to use with their workforce to educate people about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Although originally written for essential workers and employers, it is useful for all workers and employers. See Workplace Vaccination Program | CDC.
Some employees may not have reliable access to the internet to identify nearby vaccination locations or may speak no English or have limited English proficiency and find it difficult to make an appointment for a vaccination over the phone. CDC operates a toll-free telephone line that can provide assistance in many languages for individuals seeking more information about vaccinations: 800-232-4636; TTY 888-232-6348.
Some employees also may require assistance with transportation to vaccination sites. Employers may gather and disseminate information to their employees on low-cost and no-cost transportation resources serving vaccination sites available in their community and offer paid time-off for vaccination, particularly if transportation is not readily available outside regular work hours.
Employers should provide the contact information of a management representative for employees who need to request a reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious belief, practice, or observance, or to ensure nondiscrimination for an employee who is pregnant.
Is information about an employee’s COVID-19 vaccination confidential medical information under the ADA?
Yes. The ADA requires an employer to maintain the confidentiality of employee medical information. Although the EEO laws do not prevent employers from requiring employees to provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination, this information, like all medical information, must be kept confidential and stored separately from the employee’s personnel files under the ADA
Does the ADA prevent an employer from inquiring about or requesting documentation or other confirmation that an employee obtained a COVID-19 vaccination?
No. When an employer asks employees whether they obtained a COVID-19 vaccination, the employer is not asking the employee a question that is likely to disclose the existence of a disability; there are many reasons an employee may not show documentation or other confirmation of vaccination besides having a disability. Therefore, requesting documentation or other confirmation of vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry under the ADA, and the ADA’s rules about making such inquiries do not apply.
However, documentation or other confirmation of vaccination provided by the employee to the employer is medical information about the employee and must be kept confidential.
Under Title VII, what should an employer do if an employee chooses not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination due to pregnancy?
CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone aged 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or planning to become pregnant in the future. Despite these recommendations, some pregnant employees may seek job adjustments or may request exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
If an employee seeks an exemption from a vaccination requirement due to pregnancy, the employer must ensure that the employee is not being discriminated against compared to other employees similar in their ability or inability to work. This means that a pregnant employee may be entitled to job modifications, including telework, changes to work schedules or assignments, and leave to the extent such modifications are provided for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Employers should ensure that supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel know how to handle such requests to avoid disparate treatment in violation of Title VII.
Is Title II of GINA implicated when an employer requires employees to provide documentation or other confirmation that they received a vaccination from a health care provider that is not affiliated with their employer (such as from the employee’s personal physician or other health care provider, a pharmacy, or a public health department)?
No. An employer requiring an employee to show documentation or other confirmation of vaccination from a health care provider unaffiliated with the employer, such as the employee’s personal physician or other health care provider, a pharmacy, or a public health department, is not using, acquiring, or disclosing genetic information and, therefore, is not implicating Title II of GINA. This is the case even if the medical screening questions that must be asked before vaccination include questions about genetic information, because documentation or other confirmation of vaccination would not reveal genetic information. Title II of GINA does not prohibit an employee’s own health care provider from asking questions about genetic information. This GINA Title II prohibition only applies to the employer or its agent.
Does the ADA limit the value of the incentive employers may offer to employees for voluntarily receiving a COVID-19 vaccination from a health care provider that is not affiliated with their employer (such as the employee’s personal physician or other health care provider, a pharmacy, or a public health department)?
The ADA does not limit the incentives an employer may offer to encourage employees to voluntarily receive a COVID-19 vaccination, or to provide confirmation of vaccination, if the health care provider administering a COVID-19 vaccine is not the employer or its agent. By contrast, if an employer offers an incentive to employees to voluntarily receive a vaccination administered by the employer or its agent, the ADA’s rules on disability-related inquiries apply and the value of the incentive may not be so substantial as to be coercive.
Under the ADA, are there limits on the value of the incentive employers may offer to employees for voluntarily receiving a COVID-19 vaccination administered by the employer or its agent?
Yes. When the employer or its agent administers a COVID-19 vaccine, the value of the incentive (which includes both rewards and penalties) may not be so substantial as to be coercive. Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information to their employers or their agents. This incentive limit does not apply if an employer offers an incentive to encourage employees to be voluntarily vaccinated by a health care provider that is not their employer or an agent of their employer.
Does GINA limit the value of the incentive employers may offer employees if employees or their family members get a COVID-19 vaccination from a health care provider that is not affiliated with the employer (such as the employee’s personal physician or other health care provider, a pharmacy, or a public health department)?
No. GINA does not limit the incentives an employer may offer to employees to encourage them or their family members to get a COVID-19 vaccine or provide confirmation of vaccination if the health care provider administering the vaccine is not the employer or its agent. If an employer asks an employee to show documentation or other confirmation that the employee or a family member has been vaccinated, it is not an unlawful request for genetic information under GINA because the fact that someone received a vaccination is not information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in a family member (known as “family medical history” under GINA), nor is it any other form of genetic information. GINA’s restrictions on employers acquiring genetic information (including those prohibiting incentives in exchange for genetic information), therefore, do not apply.