Two vaccines, created by Pfizer and Moderna, have been approved by the FDA for immediate use to treat COVID-19, and there are others that may be available soon. Hopefully, by the end of summer, everyone who is able can get a vaccine against the coronavirus.
As the vaccines become available, employers need to consider whether they require/mandate that their workers obtain the vaccine to stay employed. The benefit of mandating a vaccine is a safer, healthier workplace. The concern about a vaccine mandate, according to Business Insurance, is that workers who develop side effects or complications due to the vaccine may be eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim because the vaccine is part of their job duties.
In addition, if employers require (or even encourage) that employees get a vaccine, then they will also have to pay for the vaccination and pay the employee to take the time to receive the vaccination.
Employers’ duties to vaccinate COVID-19 workers
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have indicated that employers do have the right to mandate that all employees receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine.
Employers who can show they complied with federal and state public health guidelines may be able to argue that any workers who develop complications to the vaccine shouldn’t receive workers’ compensation benefits, on the theory that employers were just following public safety protocols.
Employers may also apportion the vaccine mandate requirement. For example, an employer could require that:
- All employees who work in close contact with the public or other employees must be vaccinated
- There is no mandate for workers who work remotely
Employers will also need to keep a record of which employees have been vaccinated (for vaccinations that require two injections, records of both injections will be required). The employer will also need to document any waivers of the vaccination for health or religious reasons.
What if an employee has an adverse reaction?
So far, the expectation is that most adverse reactions, if they occur, will be mild. This means that most workers who are vaccinated shouldn’t need to take off too much time from work. Employers may want to consider offering paid time off for those employees, or considering the availability of telemedicine for any worker who has an adverse reaction.
Understanding Tennessee’s rules regarding workers’ compensation and illnesses
Employees who are injured while working or suffer an occupational illness are entitled to seek workers’ compensation benefits in Tennessee. Benefits include payment of reasonable medical expenses and a significant portion (normally about 2/3) of your average weekly wages while you can’t work. Other benefits may also apply.
Some states (Tennessee isn’t one of them yet) are also approving workers’ compensation claims if workers contract COVID-19 and need to take time off to quarantine and/or to receive medical treatment. In Tennessee, COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims for workers who do contract the disease are being handled on a case-by-case basis.
The experienced Chattanooga workers’ compensation lawyers at Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law have helped numerous employees get the full workers’ compensation benefits they deserve. We’ve been fighting for employees since 1945. For help with any workplace injury or illness, call us at 423-756-7923 or complete our contact form to speak with a seasoned workers’ compensation lawyer. We represent workers in Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, in North Georgia, and neighboring locations.