Can You Be Fired for Not Getting the COVID Vaccine?
It's a question we've heard over and over again since last winter: Can my employer fire me for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
That question is usually followed by questions about workers' rights and the right not to receive the vaccine. One of our listeners called us and asked us to get answers to those questions.
So, can you be fired for not receiving the vaccine? The short answer is: Yes, you may.
Louisiana state law says nothing about workers' rights when it comes to employers mandating employees receiving the vaccine. Louisiana is a right-to-work state, which essentially allows employers to fire an employee for any reason not prohibited by state or federal law.
The state legislature passed three bills dealing with COVID-19 vaccinations during the 2021 session. None of them would have prohibited businesses from firing an employee based on vaccination status. One of them would have would have removed civil liability for businesses that did not require its employees or customers to be vaccinated. The other bills would have prohibited local and state governments from distinguishing between vaccinated and non-vaccinated people and would have banned the Office of Motor Vehicles from putting vaccination statuses on people's drivers licenses. Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed all three of those bills, saying they "contribute to the false narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are anything other than safe and incredibly effective."
The state legislature did not consider overriding these vetoes during its veto session earlier this week.
Under federal law, employers may require their employees to receive the vaccine, but they still must walk a fine line in terms of using vaccination status as the reason for firing someone. Here's what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has to say about the situation:
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 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.
The EEOC also says workplace incentives for employees to get the vaccine may not be "coercive." According to the EEOC:
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.
To find out more about what the federal law says about employee and employer rights pertaining to vaccination requirements, click here.