Many employees have expressed hesitancy about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the fact that many employers are beginning to mandate it as a requirement for continued employment. The question has come up several times recently in my practice, “Can my employer require me to get the vaccine as a condition of continued employment?” The short answer is, “Probably, with two limited exceptions.”
The employer has a right to mandate that all employees get vaccinated, with the limited potential exceptions of (1) a sincerely held religious belief or (2) a medical reason that would make it unsafe for an employee to get the vaccine.
You have a right to not take the vaccination. Your employer has the right to choose which employees it wants to be employ. If you exercise your right, the employer can exercise its right. It is the nature of at-will employment that the employer can change the terms and conditions of your employment or terminate you at any time and for any reason at all, or even no reason.
Employers must still comply with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). It is illegal to discriminate against an employee who has a sincerely held religious belief that would prevent him or her from getting the vaccination. It you have a closely held religious belief that prevents you from taking a vaccination as at least one relatively large faith has, your employer must meet with you to determine if there is some other reasonable accommodation that would address the employer’s requirement and your inability to get the vaccine. One example of that might be to work from home if your job allows you to perform the essential functions of your job from there.
Some employers are willing to provide an exemption to getting the vaccine if the employee submits to regular COVID tests and/or wears a mask at all times in the workplace.
The same is true if you have a medical condition that would make taking the vaccine unwise, and you have a doctor’s note to support this.
The one thing you cannot do is force the employer to allow you to personally interact with other workers without being vaccinated.
It would be unfortunate to lose one’s employment over the issue of vaccination. If there is concern about the safety of the vaccine, it would be prudent to do some independent research on the subject, including visiting out the CDC website.