Coronavirus

Can an employer ask if you're vaccinated in the US?

New CDC guidance on mask-wearing for vaccinated people leaves employers in an awkward position in trying to figure out how to establish office safety.

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Can an employer ask if you're vaccinated in the US?
ROSELLE CHEN REUTERS

Last week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidance for fully vaccinated people. The statement read that those who are fully vaccinated can can “resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

The CDC has reported that around 37% of those in the United States are fully vaccinated, up nearly eight points since late April. As for those who have received one dose, the numbers are also increasing steadily from forty-two percent in late April, to forty-seven percent as of 20 May. While these numbers are encouraging this still leaves more than half of the population unvaccinated and unprotected.

Many full vaccinated people were excited to hear the news on masks, but it creates complications for employers as many begin to staff up. Additionally, some businesses and  organizations are wondering how or if they are able to ask about status to allow entry or service. Some states like Florida have enacted laws to ban the use of vaccine passports, one way to quickly identify those who are vaxed from those that are not.

Can businesses or employers ask about vaccine status?

The US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission released guidance in December stating that it was okay for employers to ask for “proof of vaccination.” However, it is important that the employer does not ask for any additional medical information as this could lead to legal and privacy violations. Neither the EEOC or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have not provided any additional information since the CDC updates on mask-wearing.

This leaves many employers in the dark on how to treat vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. To date, many are relying on OSHA guidance from January that did not outline any guidance on “the permissibility of treating vaccinated workers differently than unvaccinated workers,” but does remind employers that workers who are forgoing vaccination for medical or religious reasons should be accommodated.

Both organizations have posted on their websites that they are currently reviewing the information put out by the CDC and developing new guidance.

OSHA’s reads:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance relating to recommended precautions for people who are fully vaccinated, which is applicable to activities outside of healthcare and a few other environments. OSHA is reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will update our materials on this website accordingly. Until those updates are complete, please refer to the CDC guidance for information on measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers.

Until more guidance has been released, legal experts are advising that businesses who would like proof of vaccination make verification easy and do not force employees to turn over additional medical information. This is critical to avoiding violations relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Guidance for asking friends and families about their vaccine status

The etiquette experts have been asked, and they have answered saying that it is very important that the question of if a person has been vaccinated not be avoided out fears of being rude. There are polite ways to ask the question which can help in ensuring that the conversation is productive and useful.

USA Today spoke with Mister Manners himself, Thomas P. Farley who said asking about vaccine status is not “like asking someone their age.” He warns that making the topic taboo could have negative health outcomes for society as a whole.

Some tips from the experts including, talking about your own vaccine experience to start the conversation, and remaining positive and non-judgmental. Regardless of the decision made by those around you to get vaccinated, the experts say it is best to establish your own boundaries to determine what you are comfortable with.