HONOLULU (KHON2) — Can an employer require their employee to get a COVID-19 vaccination?

A Hawaii attorney says employers can mandate a COVID-19 shot but need to be careful to allow exemptions, especially under the vaccine’s Emergency Use Authorization.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines allow employers to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine as long as medical and religious exemptions are extended to workers.

Staffing Solutions of Hawaii human resources manager Xylia Lydgate says some of their clients who are looking to hire are already requesting it.

“We just had a client last week,” Lydgate said, “asking, ‘Hey is this job candidate vaccinated?’ They are going to be required to have their vaccine before we allow them to start working.”  

Lydgate says that the request came from a client in the state government sector. The employment agency also works with clients in local government and healthcare.

Louise Ing is a partner with Dentons law firm, she says employees have the right to request certain exemptions.

“If an employee has a disability or health condition that would make taking the vaccine dangerous, they cannot be forced to take the vaccine most likely,” Ing said. “Or if they have a sincerely religious belief that mandates against taking the vaccine.” 

Ing says employees can also have a legal argument to refuse a vaccine that is still under Emergency Use Authorization. People have the option to accept or refuse inoculation under this classification.

Gov. David Ige says they are not looking at requiring the COVID-19 shot for public school students and teachers, even though his administration and the Department of Education continue to encourage people to get the vaccine.

Gov. Ige said, a vaccine requirement could make sense for certain job sectors.

“When the vaccines are operating under Emergency Use Authorization, should only be considered for very specific instances when the vaccination would be a really important requirement of the jobs based on duties,” Gov. Ige said.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii said full FDA approval may make COVID-19 vaccine mandates more likely for some employers, including healthcare.

Lydgate says the COVID-19 shot could be part of a job posting’s qualifications in the near future.

Lydgate said, “Right now, not all employers are mandating it or requiring it, but they are starting to ask employees if they have it.”