The United States is a free country. We hear about freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and other such freedoms sometimes considered under fire. Well, speaking of bare arms, there's the issue of the COVID-19 vaccine. Millions of Americans have already been vaccinated, but some have chosen not to receive the shot, and/or have medical issues holding them back from doing so. But, legally, can your employer mandate you get the jab? While there's some grey area, the short answer is yes. Here's why:

Private businesses and government agencies can require a vaccine

There are several simple reasons why employers, be the private or government, can ask an employee to get vaccinated. First off, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently put out an entire article discussing this matter. Essentially, using a lot of official-sounding jargon, your main takeaway is that individuals (employees) do have the right to refuse the vaccine, but they have no actual right to legal protection:

The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

You can also be asked if you are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19.  

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash
Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

There are exceptions

As you might imagine, some will take serious issues with this policy. However, there are reasonable accommodations that can be made.

An employee who does not get vaccinated due to a disability ... a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation that does not pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

In other words, the employer is pretty well protected, but accommodations may be necessary. As we inch in and out of hot zones, re-masking, a possible third booster shot, and more coverage of the dangerous Delta variant, we're far from done hearing about COVID-19. Until we are totally out of the woods, or at least closer to being there, expect the discussions and opinions of COVID to continue being as polarizing as ever.

Our Freedom Story mural - downtown Waterloo

Take a walk along the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo to view this 3,000-square-foot mural of the city's civil rights history shown abstractly through lines, shapes, and colors. Located behind the Waterloo Center for the Arts (near the Highway 63 bridge). Created by the Waterloo Youth Art Team.

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