COVID-19, Employer-Mandated Vaccinations and California Anti-Discrimination Law

We have been living with COVID-19 for more than a year now. One very important development that, for many, represents a huge “light at the end of the tunnel” is the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinations, though, maybe problematic for many workers. Some may have religious objections and others many ethical objections. Still others may have medical reasons why they cannot receive the vaccine. An employer’s mandate of a worker’s vaccination may, in certain circumstances, represent a form of religious discrimination or disability discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. If you think you’ve been the target of workplace discrimination for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, you should contact an experienced Oakland employment lawyer promptly to discuss your legal options.

Back on March 4, 2021, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing published an update to its DFEH Employment Information on COVID-19. The updated material was specifically targeted toward the issue of vaccinations.

In that updated document, the department confirmed that generally speaking, employers may require that their employees get one of the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. What employers may not do, however, is demand that all employees get vaccinated, even those who presented the employer with an objection based upon his/her disability or sincerely-held religious belief.

For example, if you are someone who experiences a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any of the ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine, then you should not get a COVID-19 vaccine. An employer who fires you, refuses to hire you, or otherwise takes any sort of negative employment action against you for not getting vaccinated has very possibly engaged in illegal disability discrimination by taking this action.

The COVID-19 vaccine may also present serious moral issues for certain religious people. Catholics, for example, have recently been informed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that they should not receive the vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson because it uses cells obtained from aborted babies. Some members of some other smaller Christian denominations, such as the Dutch Reformed Church and Christian Scientists, oppose vaccines generally as something that thwarts God’s divine plan.

A Good-Faith Dialogue is Mandatory

If you are someone who has a medically-based reason why you cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine or someone who has a sincere religious objection to vaccination, an employer cannot simply fire you or refuse to hire you. As with other similar issues of disability-based or religion-based needs for accommodation, the employer must engage in the interactive process. (That means that the employer initiates a good-faith dialogue regarding the details of the worker’s limitations and what possible reasonable accommodations may exist for that worker.)

The employer may deny a reasonable accommodation to a worker with a disability-based or religion-based reason for seeking accommodation but, to do so within the law, the employer must be able to demonstrate that providing an accommodation would impose an “undue burden” on the employer.

The law continues to change and evolve, but one thing remains true: if you provide your employer with a legitimate need for a religion-based or disability-based accommodation, that employer must engage you in a good-faith interactive dialogue about accommodating you. If your employer doesn’t, then it may be in violation of both state and federal laws. If you think you have a valid case of employment discrimination, reach out to the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch is a knowledgeable Oakland workplace discrimination attorney who has many years of experience helping people with problems just like yours. Contact this office through our website or call (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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