Recent news has been filled with progress concerning the new vaccine for COVID-19. In December, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency-use authorization to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Questions still remain about the viability of a vaccine that has been formulated so quickly under pressure and time constraints. Many people may be reluctant to take the vaccine out of concern for its safety or other personal reasons. Your dental practice may already be facing such questions.
After such a prolonged struggle to bring COVID-19 under control, some are advocating that it become a requirement for everyone to take the vaccine when it becomes available. Others claim that this violates our personal rights guaranteed in the US constitution and other federal laws. Recent developments have provided some answers to these questions.
Vaccinations, COVID-19 and the Law
On December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of the federal government ruled that requiring employees to accept a COVID-19 vaccination is legal and acceptable. The biggest legal hurdle apparently stemmed from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That law prohibits employers from conducting some types of medical examinations.
In its declaration, the EEOC clarified that, “If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees who cite medical conditions or sincerely held religious convictions that prevent them from taking vaccinations must be accommodated. This is spelled out in the EEOC guidance notes linked above. Basically, the employer must seek to provide reasonable accommodations to provide an alternative solution for these employees.
Such accommodations may include working from home, wearing a mask and/or face shield or even working separately from others. The idea is to provide the same level of safety for the employee and their fellow employees without requiring the vaccination.
What This Means for Your Dental Practice
Legal experts have long speculated that a vaccine requirement would more likely be precipitated in healthcare. In fact, most healthcare employers, and likely your dental practice, already require workers to receive an annual flu vaccination. Presently, following interim guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “healthcare personnel likely to be exposed to or treat people with COVID-19” are already receiving the vaccine.
Another factor to consider in your dental practice is that employment in most states is generally considered to be “at will,” meaning employers set the working conditions and employees must follow them or risk losing their jobs. This would certainly include considerations for health and safety, both of employees and clients.
L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition, stated, “One of the challenges we’re going to be dealing with, obviously, especially now is that there is a shadow of politics over the vaccine. As a result, there’s some fear about whether the vaccine can be safe, whether it can be approved appropriately. Because of that shadow, I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for an employer to make COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment.”
Can your dental practice mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its staff? Legally, yes. Should your dental practice mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its staff? Realistically, maybe not. Many management experts suggest that employers should strongly encourage employees to receive the vaccine and provide plenty of education about its benefits and side-effects. Knowing the pulse of your dental practice will also help you decide if mandating the vaccine or recommending it is your best course of action.
You should also weigh the possibility of liability issues with your dental practice. If an employee submits to a mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 and then develops the coronavirus, or other medical complications from the vaccine, it could precipitate at the least a workers compensation claim, and at the worst, potential legal action.
One human resource management publication opined that, “COVID vaccine-related lawsuits are expected against employers that require their employees to have proof of a COVID vaccine before allowing them to return to the workplace.” While these legal challenges are expected to not go far, they can potentially cause undue headaches and expense for your dental practice.
Here’s What We Know
Basically, here’s what we know about requiring the COVID-19 vaccine and your dental practice:
- Employers can mandate the COVID-19 vaccine — with some exceptions for the disabled and religious objectors.
- Employers can exclude unvaccinated employees from the workplace – but this doesn’t mean automatic termination.
- Employers can ask employees to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination – but must be careful about pre-screening questions.
- Employees can seek exemption from receiving the vaccine on medical/disability grounds.
- Employees can seek exemption from receiving the vaccine due to religious beliefs.
- Employees may also ask for alternative accommodations if they object to receiving the vaccine and employers must make reasonable efforts to comply.
Strategic Practice Solutions, LLC provides coaching, consulting, training and education for your dental practice to improve profitability and service to patients. Call us toll-free at 888-421-1808 or send an online message to connect with one of our dental practice professionals with your questions about COVID-19 or any other concerns.