We are being told that vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are impending. Some reports indicate that we could have access to at least one of the vaccines within days or weeks.
This is welcome news for many people. However, for other people, vaccines in general are viewed unfavorably for a variety of reasons. Inevitably, for both supporters and detractors of COVID vaccination, the question will arise as to whether people can be forced to receive a vaccine.
Initially, it important to note that most employees in America are employed “at will.” This means that employees can be fired for almost any reason or no reason (as long as the reason is not among the protected reasons such as religion, sex or whether they may become or have recently become pregnant).
Therefore, employers are likely able to force employees to be vaccinated or lose their jobs. Employees’ only likely defenses would be that vaccines are inconsistent with employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs or that there are certain individualized medical reasons that a particular employee cannot receive the vaccine.
When it comes to a medical reason justification for not receiving the vaccine, the reason will almost certainly need to be more specific and individualized to the employee than the argument that “there may be potential, uncertain side effects.”
The vaccines were developed very rapidly, but executives of the companies that have created the vaccines claim that the rapidity of the development was not due to rushed analyses. Rather, the executives claim that the avalanche of significant government funds allowed the vaccine development to proceed without being slowed by typical financial uncertainties. Even with a medical exemption, an employee might still lose his or her job if the unvaccinated employee’s work cannot be undertaken away from others (like at home or in an isolated area).
As for the government and its ability to force vaccinations in times of epidemic or pandemic viruses, this column has previously explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governments can force vaccination of citizens. This Constitutional power can be exercised even if there is significant medical concern about the effectiveness or safety of the vaccine. The law currently stands that, in circumstances like this, the courts will defer to and trust the decisions of the elected government officials as to forced vaccinations, even though there is a risk of serious mistakes or side effects.
In reality, government officials are likely to get our population vaccinated for COVID through a more politically palatable (pleasant to accept) fashion other than forced vaccination. The tool that is likely to be used is the federal government’s almost unlimited legal ability to tax and spend.
Therefore, the government could impose taxes and spend the taxes to encourage vaccination. Currently, the proposal being most frequently discussed is to borrow (and eventually taxed citizens to pay that debt) for a financial stimulus plan, and then give the direct stimulus payments to those citizens who voluntarily vaccinate themselves and their families.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.