Pressure is mounting on U.S. and multinational employers to require COVID-19 vaccines for employees, as the Delta variant spreads voraciously, spiking infections and hospitalizations across the country and forcing employers to once again shutter worksites or change their workplace safety protocols. But can (and should) employers mandate vaccination?
Vaccine mandates received strong support on Thursday, July 29 when President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees and onsite contractors either must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements, and restrictions on travel. The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department released a policy statement directing state and local governments to use funds from the $350 billion American Rescue Plan to incentivize vaccines by offering $100 to individuals who get vaccinated.
Separately, more than 600 universities have announced mandates for students or employees. And state and local governments have joined in, with California and New York City announcing mandates this week for government employees and certain healthcare workers, and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs announcing that frontline VA health care employees must get vaccinated or face termination.
Large employers are joining the fray, with global technology companies, financial institutions, healthcare systems, retailers, transportation companies and media companies recently announcing that vaccination will be required for everyone in their workplaces.
So can private employers adopt mandatory vaccination policies? What follows is a framework for understanding whether such an approach is permissible both in and outside the US, as well as some of the key considerations for such policies.