COVID Reopening: Can (and should) Oregon Employers Require Employees to be Vaccinated?
As businesses reopen and bring back employees who have been working remotely, many employers are wondering how to manage worksite safety in the pandemic era. One looming question is whether employers can (or should) mandate COVID vaccinations for employees. While employers are not required to mandate the COVID vaccination for employees, the EEOC and BOLI have signaled that employers may mandate vaccinations subject to a few limitations.
First, employers may need to offer reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of sincerely held religious convictions or disability, are unable to be vaccinated. What accommodations are appropriate will vary and requires an individual assessment. In some situations, the employer may require documentation to confirm an employee’s inability to be vaccinated. Second, employers cannot mandate the COVID vaccinations where prohibited by a valid collective bargaining agreement. Likewise, an Oregon state law specifically exempts certain types of employees from mandatory vaccination. See ORS 433.416. Given these considerations, legal counsel should be consulted before adopting any mandatory vaccination policy.
Many employers may determine that they either can’t or don’t want to mandate vaccinations for morale or other reasons. Developing policies that encourage vaccinations – even if not required – can be equally effective. To encourage vaccination, employers have many options, but might consider:
Disseminating COVID vaccination information to employees to promote confidence in the vaccine. Consider emailing fact sheets, frequently asked questions, etc. authored by reliable authorities to help dispel vaccination myths circulating on social media;
Providing information about how and where to be vaccinated. Consider emailing employees local vaccination clinic locations with phone numbers, addresses, and vaccination times;
Developing supportive vaccination policies. Consider offering on-site vaccination clinics. Allow employees time during the regular work day to get vaccinated. Allow paid time off to go get vaccinated. Offer flexible staffing accommodations to allow for and encourage vaccination;
Developing a social model for vaccination. Consider internal or social media messaging showing trusted leaders in the organization promoting vaccination;
Vaccination bonuses to employees who voluntarily obtain their COVID vaccination such as an additional PTO day. (When crafting any bonus policy, consider how to not exclude those unable to be vaccinated because of religion or disability).
Consider a companywide reward if the total employee vaccination rate surpasses a specific threshold, say 70%-80%.
There are many ways to promote employee vaccination without requiring it. If you would like help developing a plan, please reach out to me at or 503-595-2127. Stay safe and be well!