Various religious institutes, including your church perhaps, may be wondering what the COVID-19 vaccine protocol is going to be. Some may be for it and some may oppose it since receiving a vaccine involves introducing a weak strain of the virus into one’s system (which seems contrary to all of the rather aggressive virus-prevention measures currently in place). Whichever side you’re on, you should know that all employers, institutions, and individuals are only required to encourage the vaccine, not mandate it.
There are no federal laws directing employers regarding this topic, but there are legal risks that could emerge from requiring staff to take the vaccine. The Occupational safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have issued guidelines in the past for existing vaccinations like influenza. Here’s what they have to say:
Employers can mandate flu vaccinations for employees, as long as they tell their staff about the “benefits of the vaccination”.
Staff can refuse the vaccination by citing an allergy or medical condition they may have that could result in serious complications if they take the vaccine.
Employees are protected in their decision regarding the vaccine under the OSHA Act of 1970 pertaining to whistleblower rights.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, staff are exempted from taking the vaccine based on any disability that prevents vaccination.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, those with sincere religious beliefs are also entitled to refuse a mandatory vaccination. Thus, if the staff of your church do not want to take the vaccine on religious grounds, they have the right to be exempt from it and will be protected by this Act.
Both these considerations are valid, reasonable accommodations so long as no undue hardship is caused to the employer/institution.
In short, both agencies suggest that it is safer to simply encourage rather than mandate vaccinations for your staff. These guidelines demonstrate that, as of now, you do have the freedom to choose whether or not you want the vaccination for you and your staff.
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