Businesses can require employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC said any vaccine requirement must still follow other Equal Employment Opportunity laws -- such as following the Americans for Disabilities Act or providing exceptions for religious or medical reasons.

Vaccine incentives are also allowed under EEOC rules.

[ALSO READ: Can employers make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?]

Requiring employees to get the vaccine is another difficult decision that business owners will have to make. It’s a balancing act between looking out for their workers and protecting their customers.

“My family, we strongly believe in getting the vaccine and we’ve done so, but I don’t feel like I could ask that of my employees,” said Patricia Snow, owner of Ruby’s Gift in NoDa.

Mark Hall, a professor at the Wake Forest School of Law, is nationally known for his expertise in health care law. He said barring religious or medical issues, employees who don’t like the idea of their employer forcing them to get the shot would have very little recourse under EEOC’s ruling.

“The same sort of scenario applies for childhood vaccines. You have to vaccinate your child if you want them to go to school and you can’t sue the school for making you do that,” Hall said.

Right now, most employers are using incentives to get staff to take the shot. That’s the approach at the Goodyear House restaurant in NoDa.

“We aren’t going to force anybody to get the vaccination. We have incentivized our staff to get the vaccination through gift cards and stuff like that, but we’re never going to take that position to force someone to take the vaccine,” owner Sean Potter said.

That’s true for a lot of businesses, but Hall said that doesn’t let them off the hook if one of their customers gets sick and it can be traced to an unvaccinated employee.

“Increasingly, employers are going to realize they have a responsibility, not just to their workers, but to their clientele,” Hall said. “And if there are steps they could have taken that were very safe and well-accepted, and they didn’t, yes, I think they could face that liability.”

“We run risks every day. Somebody comes in the store, they fall down, they somehow get injured, being a business owner you are taking a risk,” Snow said.

The current COVID-19 vaccines are being used with FDA emergency authorization, but Hall thinks once they get full approval, people may see a lot more employers insist that their workers get the shot.

(WATCH BELOW: Can employers make workers get COVID-19 vaccines?)