Covid and the workplace: Can employers legally make you take a vaccine not yet fully approved?
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - With a growing number of companies now requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, it's left lots of people wondering if it's legal. We talked to legal experts and looked at court cases to find answers.
Katie Sowell is a nurse at Ascension Via Christi. For personal reasons, she decided not to get the COVID-19 vaccine yet, but now, that choice might end up costing her her job.
"It really kind of makes me sad. I mean, I get that we all have vaccinations. And in a way, people have said, 'well, you've been forced to get them for nursing school,' or, you know, whatever. But I feel like this is just very different," said Sowell. "It's definitely not just me, which I was actually kind of surprised about, just how many people have not gotten it that I work beside."
Ascension announced this week that all employees have to get the vaccine, following suit with a growing number of companies making the same decision.
But it's left lots of people wondering… Is it legal?
"I know that this has caused people some frustration and some anxiety. There are a lot of things that employees are required to do that they wish they didn't have to do," said employment lawyer Gaye Tibbets.
Tibbets said while the pandemic has caused lots of one-of-a-kind situations, the simple answer is yes – an employer can require workers to get the vaccine, as long as legitimate medical conditions and religious beliefs are accommodated.
"...you know, is there a good business reason for that? And it seems obvious, especially with some employers like hospitals or care homes, those places that that is important. That they're trying to minimize a risk with the only tools available now. It's not like people are requiring this vaccination, and there's an approved one available," said Tibbets.
Thursday, President Biden said he expects full vaccine approval by fall. But currently, one of the only lawsuits to reference an employer requiring the not-yet-approved vaccine was in Texas, before a federal judge ruled in favor of the hospital in June. Tibbets said that unless there ends up being conflicting federal rulings, other court cases will likely have the same outcome.
Ultimately, Tibbets said you always have a choice. If push comes to shove, you could choose to work somewhere else – and that's exactly what people like Sowell plan on doing if she has to.
"I hope that Ascension would see how many people are willing to walk away due to this mandate and instead maybe just offer an incentive. You know, a lot of people are. I've seen they get bonuses if they get it, and then if they don't, that's their choice. I'd rather this be a choice thing rather than a mandate," said Sowell.
Tibbets said like anything with the pandemic, it will continue to evolve and possibly change. However, once a Covid vaccine does get full approval, this particular debate will be a moot point.