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Can an employer require workers get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the workplace?

Yes, according to legal experts employers can require workers get the COVID-19 vaccine but with a few exceptions.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As more Americans return to the workplace, questions remain over how far employers can go toward requiring their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to legal experts on California and federal law, the simple answer is: they can.

"The bottom line is, employers can require employees to get vaccines," said law professor Leslie Gielow Jacobs at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law. "The limitation is that there are several statutes that have specific protections for the employees." 

Outlined on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website, those protections include the Americans with Disabilities Act -- if an employee chooses not to be vaccinated due to a disability -- and under employment statute Title VII, which protects employees to have a sincere religious objection to vaccines. 

In these cases, employers should provide reasonable accommodation. 

"Reasonable accommodations could mean wearing a mask, social distancing, telework is a possibility, it could be a different shift," Jacobs said. "All of those things have to be assessed in the context of the particular business."

UC-Hastings Law Professor Dorit Reiss agrees that based on state and federal law, employers could mandate COVID-19 vaccines, but believes a 'soft mandate' or the use of incentives is more likely. 

"So not, ‘get the vaccine or your fired,’ but ‘get the vaccine or mask,’ ‘get the vaccine or be tested every two weeks,'" Reiss explained. 

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With a little more than half of the adult U.S. population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, businesses are bringing more employees back into the workplace.