Businesses will be able to require employees to be vaccinated, says attorney

“Even with vaccines, the light at the end of the tunnel is pretty far away for many," said Andy Johnson of the GR Area Chamber of Commerce at a virtual town hall Tuesday
Posted at 4:38 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 17:39:51-05

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Businesses will be able to mandate employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available, says an attorney who spoke alongside health officials at a virtual town hall Tuesday.

The FDA is expected to approve a vaccine developed by Pfizer at some point this week. It remains to be seen how quickly vaccines will make their way to Michigan after that point.

READ MORE: FDA report confirms the safety of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, authorization expected in days ahead

"Michigan is expecting somewhere from 84 thousand to a couple hundred thousand doses within the week after that," said Dr Adam London of the Kent County Health Department Tuesday.

"We don't know exactly how many of those doses will be sent to Kent county or West Michigan."

Dr London said that first responders and frontline healthcare workers will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by teachers and other essential infrastructure workers.

But once the vaccine is available for the general population, can employers require that their employees be vaccinated?

The short answer is yes.

"For a local business trying to evaluate whether to throw a mandate out, the first thing they're gonna be up against is no one can even get the vaccine yet,” said Fritz Allhoff, J.D., Ph.D., a philosophy professor at WMU.

"If we're just curious in the meantime, yeah, I think most private businesses will be allowed to mandate vaccines for the employees, so long as they honor whatever exceptions or carve outs come through the mandate.”

RELATED: US surpasses 15 million COVID-19 cases, surpasses 1 million cases in the last 5 days

So while businesses will be able to legally mandate employees are vaccinated, they will have to make some considerations for those employees with a valid exemption, as Allhof says, "for certain demographics that can't take the vaccine, or don't want to take the vaccine, and the most obvious ones are going to be one if there's any health issues.”

Those with a condition that falls under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and who would face medical issues if vaccinated, may be exempt.

Religious accommodations will also be considered under exemptions, but simply not trusting the vaccine is not enough, according to the experts.

“It is however more than medical or political philosophies, so if you have an employee saying, I believe vaccines cause autism or cause harm, or I think for political reasons I shouldn’t take this vaccine, that would not be enough,” said attorney Sarah K Willey, who also spoke at Tuesday's town hall.

While health officials recommend businesses get a jump start on their plans and policies surrounding vaccines, they should also be prepared for changes.

“When you're making the decision about whether or not to mandate the vaccine for your workforce, you’ll probably have much, much more information than you have today, so be willing to be nimble with your plan,” Willey said.

You can always visit the health department's website for the latest information on COVID-19 in Kent County.

Click here to view our complete coverage on everything relating to the coronavirus pandemic.