US employers wary of equal opportunity laws provided with vaccine guidance
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People waiting for vaccination against Covid, Gloucester, New Jersey, USA

Federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring their employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for covid-19, so long as the organisation complies with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act, according to new US government guidance.

The clarification comes as the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) publishes updated technical assistance related to the covid-19 pandemic, addressing questions arising under federal equal employment opportunity laws.

The EEOC reminded employers that because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a covid-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.

Federal laws do not prevent employers from offering employees incentives to voluntarily provide documentation confirming vaccination from a third party, such as a pharmacy, personal health care provider, or public clinic, the EEOC said.

However, if employers choose to obtain vaccination information from their employees, such information must be kept strictly confidential pursuant to the ADA.

The EEOC also clarified that employers may offer incentives for employees to be vaccinated, as long as the incentives are not coercive.

Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information, the agency warned

Amid fears of covid complacency and a growing anti-vaccination movement in the US, employers have been advised that they may provide employees and their family members with educational information about covid-19 vaccines and raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination.

The EEOC has also posted a new resource for job applicants and employees, explaining how federal employment discrimination laws protect workers during the pandemic.

These two publications follow an EEOC hearing in April on the impact of the pandemic on civil rights in the workplace.

“The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our covid-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy to understand, and helpful information,” said EEOC chair Charlotte A Burrows. “We will continue to address the issues that were raised at the Commission’s recent hearing on the civil rights impact of covid-19.”