Legal expert believes employers could mandate workers to get COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — As the nation waits for the possible approval of a COVID-19 vaccine this week, there are still questions about who will get the vaccine.

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Could employers mandate that employees take the vaccine, or fire them if they don’t? Local labor law expert Jeff Portnoy of Cades Schutte LLP believes that its entirely possible.

“It’s a political and illegal question,” Portnoy said. “I think generally employers will be able to mandate that employees take the COVID vaccine, whether they choose to do so or not, is a whole other story because of all the ramifications of unhappy employees.”

Portnoy adds that there is history of vaccines being mandated in the United States through a Supreme Court ruling.

“We know from the 1905 United States Supreme Court case, believe it or not 120 years ago, that a state can mandate the taking of a smallpox vaccine,” Portnoy said.

President-Elect Joe Biden says a vaccine will not be mandatory federally.

Portnoy believes it would be in businesses best legal interest to offer employees alternatives, such as working from home.

“Even if the employer can mandate the vaccine, there can be religious objections assuming they are valid. There can be health exemptions assuming they are valid,” explained Portnoy.

He adds that some employers and schools could be held to a different standard.

“There are some industries where there’s no question. Health care workers, the schools, which includes students,” Portnoy added.

According to the CDC, hospital workers in Hawaii are not currently required to have their immunizations in order to work.

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