General Information about Requiring Vaccinations for Staff
First published April 5, 2021. Last updated December 1, 2021.
In some states, employers can require staff to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Other states prohibit employers from being able to require a vaccination. Congregations should check with their labor attorneys about specific requirements for their states and/or municipalities. Note that rules are changing rapidly.
In your deliberations regarding vaccinations, keep in mind the Key Principles in Planning outlined on our Guidance on Gathering page – rooting decisions in the values of inclusion and consent, following the science, staying flexible, and being human and realistic in our expectations.
Here are a few articles to help you make sound decisions and ensure that you are treating your employees fairly and legally.
- See What Does Pfizer Vaccine’s Full Approval Mean for Employers’ COVID-19 Policies? from the Society for Human Resource Management, August 24.
- You’ll find good general guidance in What Do Employers Need to Know about Mandating COVID-19 Vaccinations? from Thomas Reuters.
- If you choose to require your staff to vaccinate, you should be aware of religious and medical exemptions. See the Vaccine Mandates and Exceptions section of the CDC’s Workplace Vaccination Program page.
- You may be allowed to ask for proof of vaccination, but you must avoid asking why a person may have not gotten a vaccine yet. See SmithAmundsen’s LLC’s article, Can I Ask My Employees If They Have Been Vaccinated?
- We also recommend this resource from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Guidance on requiring boosters from the Society for Human Resource Management dated November 22, 2021.
The UU Congregation in East Brunswick, NJ has written a policy requiring staff and volunteers with children (PDF) to be vaccinated and includes policy on handling medical exemptions.
All Souls Unitarian in Washington DC has a written policy requiring all employees to provide proof of vaccination (PDF), including policy on disability, religious, and medical exemptions and a weekly testing protocol for non-vaccinated employees.
First Church in Jamaica Plain, MA is requiring all employees to be vaccinated and to provide proof unless a reasonable accommodation is approved such as a medical reason or sincerely held religious belief.
Considerations When Requiring Vaccination
We've determined that it's legal for us to require vaccination and proof of vaccination. What should we consider?
- Are we doing this in an inclusive way? Have we considered how to support a staff member who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons? What reasonable accommodations could be made (such as masking, working from home, or different tasks)?
- Are we able to do this in a way that is humane and allows staff time to consider their options?
- Do all staff roles need vaccination? Which staff members will be sharing indoor space with our congregation? Which staff members will be sharing indoor space with younger not-yet-vaccinated children?
- What conflicts and tensions will requiring vaccinations for staff bring up in our congregation?
- If we require vaccination of staff, how do we understand the ethical, covenantal, and relational ways this impacts how approaching vaccination with our congregation?
- As of December 2021, the CDC definition of fully vaccinated is two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson and Johnson. However, the CDC recommends all adults get boosters. If, at some point the CDC changes the definition of "fully vaccinated" to include boosters, will we require our employees to get booster shots?
Is it okay to require vaccination for some staff but not others, depending on their job responsibilities or working conditions?
This is something to check on at the local/state level.
What about volunteers, members, and visitors?
Please see the separate LeaderLab post on this topic.
What about masks?
Vaccination does not mean removing masks. Vaccinated people are less likely to become infected and less likely to spread COVID. But as vaccinated people can spread COVID, masks are still an important layer of safety regardless of vaccination status.
- How to talk to someone fearful of getting the vaccine, from the New York Times
- What You Should Know about COVID-19 and Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, from the EEOC
- EEOC Issues: Updated COVID-19 Technical Assistance, from the EEOC