TYLER, Texas — More than 160,000 Texans have gotten the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far. They are the most at risk because of their jobs, or their age and health. But when more doses are available and offered to the general public, could someone be required to get it, and could they be fired for refusing?
Lots of people are hesitant to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons, and many have asked if there could be repercussions for not receiving it.
Our sources to answer this question are Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Governor Abbott said on December 8 during a summit at the White House for Operation Warp Speed that the government will not make anyone get vaccinated.
"In the state of Texas, people cannot be required to take a vaccine," he said. "Most people want to and there's going to be such a high demand for it, all the supply will be used. I just want to make sure all of my fellow Texans know that we know that you are not going to be forced to take a vaccine against your will."
While the government will not require vaccination, an employer can.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows an employer to “establish qualification standards that will exclude individuals who pose a direct threat — i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm — to the health or safety of the individual or of others.”
Exclude, in this case, means to keep the worker out of the building. If refusing a vaccine poses a risk that one would infect coworkers or customers, the company has the right to keep that person away.
The law also says businesses must make reasonable accommodation for someone who refuses, such as working remotely, unless the change would cause undue harm to the business.
A hospital, for example, might not be able to accommodate a nurse or doctor who declines a flu shot, since infecting patients could cause illness or death, and many patients have to be examined in-person.
According to guidance issued December 16 by the EEOC, a COVID-19 vaccine is treated the same way. Whether the worker refuses a vaccine because of medical reasons or religious reasons, if there is no reasonable accommodation, the employee might be let go.
So we can verify, if someone has a job where they are around other people, their company might be able to fire them if they decline to get vaccinated.
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