Gloved hands holding a face mask

Despite some positive news regarding vaccinations, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and employees and employers in California will continue to deal with pandemic-related issues for the unforeseeable future. Safe COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the FDA are among the most effective interventions to help end the pandemic. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recently released its updated guidance on COVID-19 with specific guidelines for workplace vaccination policies. 

In the guidance, employers may generally mandate their employers to get immunized with an FDA-approved vaccine against COVID-19 as long as employers follow proper guidelines under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which include: 

  • Employers can’t harass or discriminate against job applicants or employees based on protected characteristics.
  • Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees and employees with sincerely-held religious practices or beliefs. 
  • Employers should not retaliate against employees for being involved in a protected activity, including requesting reasonable accommodations. 

Prohibiting Harassment and Discrimination

All California employers who are thinking of mandating vaccinations for employees should make sure that their vaccination policies don’t discriminate against job applicants or employees based on protected characteristics, such as disability, religion, and perceived disability. To help ensure that the vaccination policies are not discriminatory, employers should reasonably accommodate employees with sincerely-held religious beliefs or disabilities. 

Reasonable Accommodations for Employees 

According to the DFEH guidance, employers must be ready to provide reasonable accommodations to all employees with sincerely-held beliefs or disabilities that would potentially prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. This means that employees who don’t want to get vaccinated on either ground should be accommodated reasonably. However, the accommodation cannot impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Determining whether there’s a workable reasonable accommodation will depend on the employee’s specific situation. For example, a potential accommodation consideration might include work-from-home arrangements or implementing reasonable measures and procedures to allow unvaccinated employees to continue working in the workplace without endangering others or themselves. It is, however, crucial to note that the DFEH guidance stated that employers aren’t required under law to reasonably accommodate an employee who doesn’t believe in or questions the safety of FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. 

Crucial Points to Remember for Employers  

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have significant impacts on the legal landscape. And with the new vaccination guidance, there’s still a lack of clear rules on implementation, so employers are advised to seek legal counsel before implementing mandatory vaccination policies. THE DFEH also did not indicate its position on whether employees should mandate vaccinations in the workplace. The guidance simply suggests how employers can ensure compliance with the FEHA if they do decide to mandate vaccination. 

Additionally, it’s best to explore viable reasonable accommodations for employees with sincerely-held religious beliefs or disabilities with your lawyer because figuring out which accommodations are reasonable will primarily depend on the employee’s specific circumstances. Also, undue hardship may be difficult to establish, so employers must consult with their lawyer if they truly believe that an undue hardship exists, and they’ll need to deny certain reasonable accommodations for an employee. 

Get in Touch with a Mountain View, CA, Employment Lawyer Today

If you’re looking to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations in your workplace, call the Kalia Law, P.C. at 650-701-7617 or contact us online to schedule your appointment with an employment attorney in California. 

- Claire Kalia

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