Tag Archives: EEOC

Can an employer require its employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine?

In November, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna announced that they had each developed a coronavirus vaccine.   This is, obviously, wonderful news.  Under the current vaccine distribution plan for the State of Tennessee, residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities will receive the vaccine first, followed by first responders, low exposure healthcare workers and people with two (2) or more high-risk comorbidities. 

These vaccines will likely not be available to the general public for several months.  Many people will take the vaccine voluntarily.  But as an employer, can you require your employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus as a condition of employment? 

The answer is likely yes, with some exceptions.  The EEOC has not yet issued any guidance on this issue.  However, the EEOC has previously issued guidance on whether employers can require all employees to take the flu vaccine.  With respect to the flu vaccine, the EEOC states that an employer can require an employee to be vaccinated unless the employee should be exempted because of an ADA disability or his or her sincerely-held religious beliefs. 

If the employee has an ADA disability that prevents the employee from taking the flu vaccine, the employer must analyze whether it can reasonably accommodate this disability without undue hardship.  For example, can the employer reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability and address the health and safety concern by having the employee wear a mask or PPE at all times when the employee is around others?  If this reasonable accommodation will not create an undue hardship, then the employer must provide that reasonable accommodation.

An employee’s sincerely-held religious belief, practice or observance may also prevent that employee from taking a vaccine, whether it is the flu or the coronavirus vaccine.  For those employees, the employer must also determine whether it can provide a reasonable accommodation, such as the mask or PPE requirement, or working remotely, that will not impose an undue hardship on the employer.  The EEOC goes on to state that “generally, ADA-covered employers should consider simply encouraging employees to get the influenza vaccine rather than requiring them to take it.”

Given that COVID 19 appears to be more deadly to some and more contagious than the flu, the EEOC might change its position on the issue.  Certain industries may also have obligations to vaccinate employees, such as those employers in the healthcare industry.  For now, most employers should assume that they will not be able to require vaccinations for those employees who have an ADA disability or sincerely-held religious belief that prohibits vaccination and will have to consider whether those employees can be reasonably accommodated without undue hardship. 

Employers considering mandatory vaccination policies should review relevant EEOC, CDC and any state guidance and consult legal counsel to ensure that they meet their goal of protecting the health and safety of their workforce without violating applicable laws.   

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Christian Care Center of Johnson City to Pay $90,000 to Settle ADA Case Filed by EEOC

The EEOC has the power to, and will,  sue employers who it believes have violated the laws it enforces.  It recently sued the Christian Care Center of Johnson City, Tennessee for disability discrimination based on the Center’s firing of an HIV positive LPN.  The case settled for $90,ooo.  You can read more about it in the EEOC Press Release which is linked below.


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EEOC Equal Pay Directed Investigation

Recently I attended a presentation given by Shirley Richardson, the Deputy Director for the EEOC – Memphis District. Ms. Richardson focused on the EEOC’s current Strategic Initiatives. I previously wrote about those initiatives here.

One of the EEOC’s Strategic Initiatives is enforcing equal pay laws. One method the EEOC can use to enforce equal pay laws is an Equal Pay Directed Investigation. A Directed Investigation can be conducted without an EEOC Charge being filed.

Basically, the EEOC will send a letter to the employer stating that it is conducting an investigation and will ask to review the pay records for male and female employees. The Directed Investigation is similar to an audit by the Department of Labor, but the focus is on whether discrimination has occurred on the basis of gender.

Employers should conduct an internal audit of their payroll records to ensure that men and women are paid equally for equal work. Discrepancies in pay between men and women must be tied to legitimate, non- discriminatory reasons which are applicable to the job. These reasons could include differences in education, experience and seniority.

The failure to conduct an internal equal pay audit may result in problems for the employer if it faces an EEOC Charge or Directed Investigation. Be proactive and conduct the audit now to avoid problems in the future.

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What To Do When The EEOC Comes Knocking

Recently the EEOC listed the 10 states which produced the most charges of discrimination in 2012.  To my suprise Tennessee was 10th on the list.

If your business receives an EEOC Charge (or a charge from a state human rights agency such as the Tennessee Human Rights Commission) you should take the following steps:

1. Litigation Hold- Immediately take steps to preserve all documents which might be relevant to the allegations in the charge.  This process, commonly referred to as a litigation hold, requires you to preserve hard copies as well as electronically stored information, and to suspend normal document retention/destruction practices and policies.

2. Notify your insurer- If you have Employment Practices Liability Insurance send the carrier written notice of the charge.  The failure to do so could result in the insurer denying coverage based on your failure to promptly notify it of the allegations.

3. Notify your attorney- Because statements made in the position statement and the response to the request for information are admissions which can be used against you, and the failure to assert certain defenses might result in  a waiver,  it is important that you get your attorney involved at the outset. If you have EPLI insurance the insurer will likely provide an attorney for you.

4. Investigate- If the charge presents allegations which are new or that have not previously been investigated a prompt, thorough investigation should be conducted.

5. Need to Know- In order to reduce “water cooler gossip” and to avoid retaliation claims,  you should only provide information about the charge to those who have a legitimate need to know the information.

The EEOC charge is often the first stage of what becomes lengthy, costly litigation.  Make sure you are taking the proper steps at the outset to give your business the best possible chance of prevailing.

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Fifth Circuit Holds Title VII Protects Nursing Mothers From Being Fired For Expressing Breast Milk

Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,  protects nursing mothers from being fired for lactating or expressing breast milk.  The plaintiff was allegedly fired after asking to use a breast pump at work.  In reaching its decision the Court held that firing someone because of lactation or breast pumping is sex discrimination.

This is a big victory for the EEOC, who brought the case on behalf of the plaintiff.  This win also highlights one of the EEOC’s priorities in its Strategic Enforcement Plan, which is to identify emerging areas in equal employment law, including pregnancy-related issues.

Most employers know that the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 2010 to require them to provide both a reasonable break time and a place, other than a bathroom, for an employee to express breast milk for up to a year after a child’s birth.  The Fifth Circuit has now made it clear that Title VII also protects employees who are fired for expressing breast milk.

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What to expect from the EEOC in 2013

Late last month the EEOC issued its Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013.  The Plan sets forth 6 priorities:

1. Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring;

2. Protecting Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers;

3. Addressing Emerging and Developing Issues;

4. Enforcing Equal Pay laws;

5. Preserving Access to the Legal System; and

6. Preventing Harassment Through Systemic Enforcement and Targeted Outreach.

Based on these priorities I recommend employers take the following steps:

1. Conduct an internal “equal pay audit” to ensure that male and female employees are being paid the same for equal work;

2. Conduct anti-harassment training for your entire workforce;

3. Conduct an internal audit of your compliance with immigration laws, including Form I-9, and;

4. Conduct an internal audit to ensure that there are not discriminatory differences in pay for any employees.

Any issues that are discovered should be corrected.

Happy New Year!

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