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Can your workplace mandate the COVID-19 vaccine? 2 Charlottesville lawyers weigh in

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 8:47 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Shots are going into arms and some workers are going back to the office, but some people are wondering if their bosses can mandate the COVID-19 vaccine in order for them to return to work in person.

Two Charlottesville lawyers say the answer is most likely yes, especially for workers who interact with members of the public. However, both lawyers expect some legal challenges.

“Most employers are going to be able to justify requiring a vaccination with the pandemic, but there are always going to have to be exceptions for religious exemptions, for medical exemptions under the [Americans with Disabilities Act],” said David Oberg, an attorney with Jones Oberg & Green.

There are complexities that could come up if a mandate is brought to court, though attorney David Thomas with MichieHamlett says he thinks most mandates will stand.

“I just suspect that courts are going to give a lot of deference to employers who are focused on safety both of their own employees and of the public at large,” he said.

Thomas says he could see a successful challenge if a workplace chooses not to have exemptions or only exempt certain groups.

The hypothetical scenario, he said, could be: “They said ‘OK, well those with suppressed immune systems, you don’t have to get it, but those of you with religious beliefs, which prevent or prohibit vaccination, you do have to get it.’”

What about your vaccination record card? Can your employer ask to see it for proof?

“They can ask to see your vaccination card, I would be very cautious asking for anything beyond that,” Oberg said. “If I said, ‘hey, could I see your vaccine card,’ and you said ‘well I’m not getting the vaccine,’ it would be a mistake for me to say ‘oh really, why not?’”

The Johnson & Johnson shot is now paused, so what might happen if a mandated employer has one of the extremely rare adverse reactions?

“If you have complications as a result of the vaccine, employers could be held liable for that,” Oberg said.

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