U.S. employers can require you to take the COVID-19 vaccine: EEOC

Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan joins Kristin Myers to discuss the legalities surrounding your job requiring you to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: For those of you who are skeptical about the vaccine or just don't want to take it, I have some bad news for you. It turns out your job can require you to take the coronavirus vaccine. We have Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan here to go through this with us. So Alexis, is it something special about the coronavirus vaccine, that because we're in a pandemic, that an employer can essentially require you to take the vaccine? Does this not violate some kind of law? I was I was really shocked to read that.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Yes, Kristin. So we've been waiting to see what the EEOC would say about this. And yes, for sure, these are special times, special circumstances. And there is some wiggle room here despite the headlines. Tons of headlines lately now saying, based on last week's guidance from the EEOC, that employers can now keep those unvaccinated workers from coming back to work and commingling with their co-workers. But it's not exactly that straightforward.

What the EEOC did in its guidance is it really gave employers what their obligations are now going to be under our civil rights laws. Now, the commission, they didn't come out and directly say, OK, these employer proposed required vaccines are legal. They didn't give it that label. But what they did do is they explained how employers should really respond to employees who say, I either cannot take this vaccine or I will not take this vaccine. So kind of implying there that they can do this, but just not coming out and giving it that full legal authority.

Now, for the employers that say the vaccination is required, they may have to provide some exemptions and accommodations for certain workers. So we can show you there on the screen. These might include pregnant workers, those who are disabled, as well as those who say they refuse on religious grounds. Now for those thinking that religious grounds might be a good option for them, it's still not really the strongest way to refuse an employer mandated vaccine. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers can have some wiggle room to sidestep having to provide those kind of accommodations if they're too burdensome or too costly on the employer.

Now, under the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, there's a little more protection there. That usually provides the strongest protection, but it's not here total firewall either. Because under this new guidance, what's really particular and significant is that asking for proof of a vaccine-- if your employer says, show me that you had it-- that is now deemed not the equivalent of a medical exam. And that's usually what the ADA prohibits, that the employer cannot go in and say, OK, we're going to give you a medical exam to prove whether you are disabled or you have something that would prevent you from doing your job.

So now that is very special. And employers can ask. Though beyond asking whether you've had the vaccine or not, employers probably aren't going to be able to ask, why did you or why did you not have the vaccine? And I just want to show you quickly, just at the end of November here, the number of Americans who were saying they did not want to get this vaccine. So just in the last couple of weeks here, 42% of Americans still saying, no. So quite a lot of people may not be really on board with what the EEOC wants to see happen here, Kristin.

KRISTIN MYERS: Yeah, pretty interesting news. I'm sure a lot of folks out there are not going to be pleased if their boss comes to them and says, hey, you're going to have to take this vaccine if you want to come back to work. I want to ask you really quickly, do you know that if-- I'm wondering if you know if you can be fired, for example, if you refuse to take it.

ALEXIS KEENAN: So that's going to be tricky here. I think the first steps are going to be to provide accommodations for those who say that they do not want this vaccine. And certainly, those employers who have been able to function up until now by doing things like what we're doing, broadcasting from home, of different ways of doing business, if they've been able to do it before and it's not affecting that company's bottom line, I think that these companies are going to be expected to have to do that.

And I think they'll be willing to too in this transition time. But yes, this is definitely a strong indication from the EEOC, that this type of requirement will at least be entertained and tolerated to a certain level.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan with all of those very important details on what I'm sure is going to be an evolving story. I can only imagine the headlines that are going to be coming in a couple of months as some workers get a little bit angry about this requirement. Thanks for giving us all the details.

ALEXIS KEENAN: No doubt. Yeah.