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Can a business require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 5:21 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - History was made on Sunday as the first coronavirus vaccines were delivered to the commonwealth.

Then, on Monday, the first Kentuckians began receiving the vaccine, with UK Hospital in Lexington beginning administering them on Tuesday.

In the coming weeks, doses will be given to those in health care and long-term care facilities.

Healthcare officials have said this week we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thousands of frontline healthcare workers received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

So, we wondered, could businesses require their employees to get vaccinated to continue working? A man who’s worked in human resources for more than 30 years told us, it’s not likely.

“It is strongly recommended and can be strongly recommended by employers,” said Brian Simmons with BEST Edutainment. “At this point, however, it would not be wise and it is not suggested, and it is not even legal, at this point, to mandate a vaccine unless, unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification.”

Simmons teaches business practices and says employers are required to keep workplaces safe, but, when it comes to things like a vaccine, it depends on the job and the employee.

“Our state says we are an at-will employee,” Simmons said. “At-will employment just doesn’t mean you can terminate people randomly. Especially for things against a protected class.”

Baptist Health and UK Healthcare have told us they’ve encouraged their employees to get the COVID vaccine, but, unlike the flu shot, it isn’t required. These are jobs where workers’ health can have an impact on the people they interact with.

Simmons said for someone who isn’t working in healthcare, the same couldn’t be said.

“In our lifetime we haven’t experienced this,” Simmons said. “So, when we have to experience something like this it’s going to require us to look into the workplace and see, how does it apply? How does it fit??

Baptist Health told us they already had employees volunteer for all 975 doses of the vaccine they received.

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