January 5, 2021
Inside: Now that Covid-19 vaccines are rolling out, here’s what you need to know about requiring employee vaccination.
Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have finally been approved and are slowly being distributed throughout the United States. In the coming weeks, the vaccines should be available to essential workers like your pharmacy staff.
Both vaccines will protect recipients from catching the virus, and there’s also a significant chance they will prevent recipients from passing the virus on to others. That means that when your staff is vaccinated, they aren’t just protecting themselves, they are also making it safer for patients who haven’t yet been vaccinated to visit the pharmacy.
With all that in mind, it’s in the best interest of your business to get your staff vaccinated. Here’s everything you need to know about requiring your staff to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
The short answer: yes.
On December 16, the EEOC issued guidance that made it clear employers who choose to mandate that employees must receive the Covid-19 vaccine aren’t violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Since employment in the United States is generally “at will,” the employer gets to set standards for working conditions. That means if you decide that your employees being vaccinated is a necessary condition to maintain health and safety in the pharmacy, you are within your rights to require it.
There are a couple of instances, however, when you cannot require employees to get vaccinated, which you should be aware of.
When it comes to staff members who are eligible for exemptions and cannot be vaccinated, you should find ways to accommodate them. If you can’t make an accommodation without causing undue hardship to you as the employer, according to the ADA, you can exclude these exempt employees from participating in the workplace.
You must also consider requests for exemption on a case-by-case basis. A blanket policy regarding exemptions and accommodations could be considered discriminatory.
The two situations that employees could require an exemption are:
Some employees have legitimate reasons not to get the Covid-19 vaccine because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Right now, the only people that the FDA recommends should not get the vaccine are people with a history of severe vaccine allergy.
People who have other allergies, including food or mold, are still recommended to get the vaccine. Clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine included people with severe food allergies and no issues arose.
The other group that may have a medical reason for not getting the vaccine is people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. There isn’t enough data to determine the safety of the vaccine for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals because they weren’t included in the vaccine trials, but observational data indicates that the absolute risk associated with the vaccine for this group is low. Because of this, the FDA recommends that pregnant and lactating people be allowed to make their own call about whether to get vaccinated.
There are also some cases of groups that may be exempt from other vaccines, but not the Covid-19 vaccine. Since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines and do not contain a live virus, people with underlying medical conditions and suppressed immune systems who may not be able to get the flu vaccine are still recommended to get the Covid-19 vaccines.
People who have already had Covid-19 might use that fact to seek a medical exemption for vaccination, but that group is also still recommended to receive the vaccine and so would not qualify for an exemption.
The other situation where you cannot require an employee to get vaccinated for Covid-19 is when vaccination conflicts with a sincerely held religious practice or belief.
What is a sincerely held religious belief? The definition isn’t exactly clear. In general, you should assume that an employee who is asking for a religious exemption is doing so in good faith.
However, if you have reason to doubt the employee is being sincere, you are within your rights to as for additional information to verify. This can come in the form of:
If an employee refuses to cooperate with reasonable requests for verification, EEOC guidelines say they will lose their chance to claim they were improperly denied accommodation.
Employees who have secular beliefs against vaccination or erroneous scientific beliefs about vaccination do not have to be accommodated for those beliefs, and you can still require that those staff members be vaccinated.
While the EEOC has said requiring vaccination does not go against the ADA, there are still some issues with the law that may arise during mandatory workplace vaccinations.
The most important thing to take note of is that the pre-screening questions you or a contractor ask before administering the vaccine could bring up information about a disability, and because of that are considered “disability-related.”
This means when you ask those screening questions, you have to show they are “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” according to the ADA. Essentially, you have to have evidence that by not answering the screening questions (and therefore not getting vaccinated), an employee is jeopardizing the health and safety of themselves or someone in the workplace.
There’s no question that you are legally in the clear to require your employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should make it a requirement.
Some businesses might find it easier to recommend their employees get the vaccine rather than requiring it. Vaccines are polarizing, and requiring them may cause hostility in the workplace. Even if staff members aren’t against vaccination in general, they might chafe at having their autonomy taken away with the requirement.
However, your pharmacy doesn’t have the luxury of letting employees work from home like many other businesses. Your staff members are working in-person, directly with patients, and therefore have a higher risk of catching Covid-19 at work than people who can work remotely.
If you don’t vaccinate in the workplace, you risk a Covid-19 outbreak among your staff that could severely impact your ability to serve patients, which in turn damages your bottom line.
There’s also a liability risk that comes along when you don’t have a mandatory vaccination policy in place. If an employee gets sick with Covid-19 on the job, they could potentially claim that you violated OSHA rules by failing to provide a safe working environment.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The member-owned company serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.
An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited (formerly VAWD) warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.
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