EEOC Updates COVID-19 Workplace Guidance

Posted on May 28, 2021


On May 28, 2021 the EEOC updated its Workplace Guidance to clarify COVID-19 vaccination issues in the workplace.

The EEOC first reinforced the notion that an employer may mandate employees receive the vaccine before entering the workplace with some exceptions. The guidance states:

"The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations discussed below. These principles apply if an employee gets the vaccine in the community or from the employer.  

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 for 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) for religion.

As with any employment policy, employers that have a vaccine 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 greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement."

Furthermore, the EEOC’s updated guidance states that employers may also offer incentives to encourage employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The relevant provisions find:

"Under the ADA, may an employer offer an incentive to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation that they received a vaccination on their own from a pharmacy, public health department, or other health care provider in the community?

Yes. Requesting documentation or other confirmation showing that an employee received a COVID-19 vaccination in the community is not a disability-related inquiry covered by the ADA. Therefore, an employer may offer an incentive to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of a vaccination received in the community. As noted elsewhere, the employer is required to keep vaccination information confidential pursuant to the ADA.

Under the ADA, may an employer offer an incentive to employees for voluntarily receiving a vaccination administered by the employer or its agent? 

Yes, if any incentive (which includes both rewards and penalties) is not 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. However, this incentive limitation does not apply if an employer offers an incentive to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation that they received a COVID-19 vaccination on their own from a third-party provider that is not their employer or an agent of their employer." 

As such, when considering what incentives to offer employees to become vaccinated where the employer or an agent of the employer is the party administering the vaccine, the employer must ensure that the incentive is not too coercive as defined under the ADA.

Furthermore, the employer must ensure that all nondiscrimination laws are being followed when implementing vaccination policies and incentives in the workplace.

The update to the EEOC Workplace Guidance may be found in full here.

For more information, please contact Sarah Holland.