RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: New Hires and Vaccination - 08/20/2021
Can we require new hires at the library to be vaccinated, and if so, how should we word this on th...
Posted: Friday, August 20, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Can we require new hires at the library to be vaccinated, and if so, how should we word this on the job application, and how are we allowed to ask for proof of vaccination? What if the new hire is not vaccinated because of religious reasons. If the library requires those who are not vaccinated to get COVID tested weekly, does the library have to pay for those tests?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Underlying all these highly specific questions is one Big Question: Can employers require vaccination? "Ask the Lawyer" addressed the Big Question on December 18, 2020, and that answer is perma-linked at: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/186.  For any reader who is new to this issue, or who needs a refresher, please read #186, because this answer uses that background to jump right into things.

And with that, let's jump right into things...

Question: Can we require new hires at a library to be vaccinated?

Answer: Only if the library's safety plan requires it, AND the job description of the specific position contains essential duties that cannot be performed without risk of transmission .[1]

Question: If so, how should we word this on the job application?

Answer: Here is one way:

"The essential duties of this position and the library's safety protocols require vaccination for COVID, therefore, an up-to-date COVID vaccination status is a requirement of this position."

Question: Are we allowed to ask for proof of vaccination?

Answer: Yes, but if you do, the library should have a written plan to maintain confidentially (this should be part of a Safety Plan).

Question: What if the new hire is not vaccinated because of religious reasons?

Answer: If being vaccinated is a "bona fide" occupational requirement of the position (which is what a library does by confirming that the essential duties of the position and the library's safety protocols require vaccination for COVID), a person who is not vaccinated will not become the new hire--regardless of medical or religious reasons.

As the question points out, this is a high-stakes game.  So, it is critical to work with the library's HR consultant or civil service liaison to update the job description so the front-facing work, or collaborative work, that require vaccination for that particular position is genuine.  If the "essential duties" of the position include numerous activities that could be done remotely, or in solitude, it may be that the job can be modified to accommodate either health or religious needs--both of which must be given maximum deference whenever the job requirements and the resources of the library make it possible.

Question: If the library requires those who are not vaccinated to get COVID tested weekly, does the library have to pay for those tests?

Answer:  I am not comfortable endorsing a Safety Plan or any type of procedure that includes a COVID testing requirement based solely on vaccination status.

Here is why:

The EEOC is currently the go-to agency for guidance on balancing privacy, disability, and employment needs when it comes to COVID.

Current EEOC guidance (posted at https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws) as of August 16, 2021, states:

The ADA requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take screening steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before initially permitting them to enter the workplace and/or periodically to determine if their presence in the workplace poses a direct threat to others. The ADA does not interfere with employers following recommendations by the CDC or other public health authorities regarding whether, when, and for whom testing or other screening is appropriate. Testing administered by employers consistent with current CDC guidance will meet the ADA’s “business necessity” standard. [Emphasis added]

Here's where the COVID daisy-chain begins: the EEOC is basing its notion of "basic necessity" on the guidance from the CDC.

Here is the "current CDC guidance" (posted at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html) as of August 16, 2021:

Who should get tested for current infection:

  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Most people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19.

-Fully vaccinated people should be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

-People who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered do not need to get tested following an exposure as long as they do not develop new symptoms.

  • Unvaccinated people who have taken part in activities that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 because they cannot physically distance as needed to avoid exposure, such as travel, attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded or poorly-ventilated indoor settings.
  • People who have been asked or referred to get tested by their healthcare provider, or statetribal, local or territorial health department.

Nowhere on this list is "unvaccinated employees who report to work as usual." [2] A dilemma, right?

Not as I see it.

As I see it, while we can all find something to complain about in the lurching, evolving guidance from the alphabet soup of EEOC, NYSDOL, OSHA, NYSDOH, WHO and CDC, this current configuration makes perfect sense.

Why? Because this approach achieves balance.  Within these confines, libraries (along with other employers) are positioned to structure job requirements to be as safe as possible--not just for employees, but for the communities they serve.  The structure and requirements, however, must be "bona fide," meaning that personal safety, privacy, freedom of association, and respect for conscience are positioned to be honored, while ensuring they do not gain primacy to the detriment of public safety as a whole.

For these reasons, I will not answer the question as posed.  However, I will answer:

Question: If the library requires employees who trip a current CDC risk factor (showing symptoms, close contact, etc.) to get COVID tested, does the library have to pay for those tests?

Answer: I have found no requirement that an employer pay for a COVID test that is used as a pre-requisite for returning to work.  Of course, for employees who are sick, or on mandatory quarantine, or have been sent home by their employer for tripping a COVID factor, the protections for paid sick leave[3] that were set up earlier in the pandemic still apply.

And I will add this bonus question:

Question: If the library decides to use routine random COVID testing of all on-site employees as part of a Safety Plan, does the library have to pay for those tests?

Answer:  An employer cannot require an employee to pay for a COVID test,[4] and cannot deduct the cost of such a test from a paycheck, so if the employer sets up random testing as part of a Safety Plan, the employer must pay for it.



[1] Bearing in mind all the caveats set forth in https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/186.

[2] I suppose an employer could categorize an unvaccinated employee as having "taken part in activities that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19" simply by reporting to work.  But would an employer want to admit to allowing such risk to take place?

[4] Remember, an employee who is out due to symptoms, exposure, or ordered quarantine can "wait it out" and doesn't have to take a test.

Tags: ADA, COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccine, Employment

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.