June 2, 2021 | Bill Esler
Atlanta, GA – Woodworker and actor Nick Offerman testified before Congress in an effort to encourage Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Offerman owns a Los Angeles woodshop and furniture making business as a sideline to acting. He played a woodshop teacher on the TV show “Parks & Recreation,” and has written books about woodworking.
Offerman’s encouragement to his fellow Americans to be vaccinated comes on the heels of new federal guidance regarding workplaces and COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says workers who are fully vaccinated need not wear masks or stay “socially distant” from fellow workers. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says employers can require workers to be vaccinated before returning to work. Many woodworking businesses were regarded as essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, and established policies for maintaining social distance among office and manufacturing workers.
The new guidance on workplace practices comes as the two federal agencies respond to businesses reopening around the U.S. Vaccination rates are rising around the country, though they vary dramatically from state to state. Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island report more than 51% of their populations immunized, while fewer than 33% of the residents are immunized in Idaho, Georgia, Wyoming, Utah, and Tennessee.
Here are the the key updates to the technical assistance from the EEOC:
Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations. Other laws, not in EEOC’s jurisdiction, may place additional restrictions on employers. From an EEO perspective, employers should keep in mind 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 EEO laws do not prevent or limit employers from offering incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination obtained from a third party (not the employer) in the community, such as a pharmacy, personal health care provider, or public clinic. If employers choose to obtain vaccination information from their employees, employers must keep vaccination information confidential pursuant to the ADA.
Employers that are administering vaccines to their employees 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 very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information.
Employers may provide employees and their family members with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines and raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination. The technical assistance highlights federal government resources available to those seeking more information about how to get vaccinated.
The new resource for job applicants and employees provides basic information about how federal employment discrimination laws help workers who are being harassed; who need extra protection against getting sick; who are not being allowed to work; or who need a modification of their employer’s COVID-19 safety requirements.
These two publications follow an EEOC hearing on April 28 on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on civil rights in the workplace at which the EEOC heard from a wide range of experts. They were prepared prior to the CDC’s new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals issued on May 13, 2021, and do not specifically address that new guidance. As new developments occur, the EEOC will consider any impact they may have on EEOC’s COVID-19 technical assistance and will provide additional updates and assistance to the public as needed.
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