As Michigan employers prepare for a return to in-person work, Michigan’s Universities are leading the way on vaccination policies. On July 30, 2021, Both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan rolled out mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for all employees (and students) returning to campus this fall. Many hospitals and health-care settings have already announced similar policies. With proper exemptions in place, mandatory vaccination policies benefit employees because they promote workplace safety for everyone. Most employers who have announced COVID vaccination policies are allowing for accommodations of religious or medical restrictions. Some are also allowing employees to choose between providing proof of vaccination or complying with weekly mandatory testing requirements for unvaccinated employees.
There is no federal law prohibiting employers from mandating vaccines in the workplace. Many employers are borrowing from federal policies released last week that require all federal employees to be vaccinated unless they have a sincere reason they cannot do so. Those that are unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine will face tighter monitoring and other workplace protocols to keep co-workers safe. General vaccination requirements are generally lawful and fall within the employer’s duty to keep their employees safe. According to recent reporting, vaccinations have shown a dramatic result in protecting health and preventing death: “Even Mississippi, the state with the lowest vaccination rate, has protected 43 percent of adults. Nationwide, Covid-19 has dropped from being the leading cause of death in January to now the seventh, averaging 330 deaths per day.”
In Michigan, MIOSHA will continue to enforce COVID-19 workplace safety regulations. In limited circumstances, individual employees with legitimate medical or religious exemptions have a right to keep their jobs even if they cannot get a vaccination. However, some states are enacting laws that could make it permissible for the workforce to refuse vaccinations. Montana is leading the way on this, which other states may follow. At the same time, countries tracking the new spread of the COVID-19 “delta variant” have reason to worry that unvaccinated communities are facing much higher risks.
Employers who opt to mandate vaccines have to be careful to build in proper exemptions and make sure they are keeping up with all the state and local requirements. It’s a shifting legal landscape. That is why a lot of national companies are opting to provide incentives to get vaccinated rather than punishing employees who simply choose not to get vaccinated. Even with mandatory policies, employers who are careful to provide legally required exceptions are on solid ground if they want to mandate vaccines, especially in the healthcare setting.
Despite the complexity, there are a lot of potential benefits to requiring vaccines in the workplace – providing a safer workplace, reducing unscheduled absences, and avoiding unnecessary exposure risks for customers and others who may be interacting with unvaccinated employees. Following sound public health policy will allow employers to ease up faster on other restrictions, like mask-wearing, and also speed the safe reopening of Michigan businesses, schools, and workplaces.