Can Arizona Schools and Employers Require Students and Employees to Get Vaccinated for COVID-19?
Governor Ducey recently signed an executive order requiring Arizona schools to reopen for in-person learning by March 15, 2021. Additionally, many employers that have allowed employees to work remotely during the pandemic are now asking them to return to the office. Although there are many factors at play, the fact that vaccines are now more readily available likely has played a role in the shift towards in-person learning and working.
Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is underway across the United States, and the Biden administration has represented that the federal government will have enough vaccines to inoculate most adults by May 2021. Recent polls suggest the majority of Americans are willing to be immunized when vaccines are made available to them. However, a sizeable minority has expressed skepticism.
So, can schools and employers require students and employees to get vaccinated when vaccines are made widely available? With a few exceptions outlined below, the answer is generally yes. Unless one of the exceptions applies, schools and employers may legally preclude students and employees who refuse to get vaccinated from attending school or go into the workplace in person.
Exemptions that Apply to Both Students and Employees
Student and employees with medical conditions that would make immunization dangerous are exempt from school or workplace policies requiring vaccinations. For example, individuals who are allergic to the COVID-19 vaccine’s ingredient(s) and/or are immunocompromised may request an exemption.
Students and employees with a “sincerely held religious belief” against vaccinations are also exempt. However, it’s important to note that this exemption does not apply to “sincerely held beliefs” that are not religious, such as general opposition to vaccines.
Personal Beliefs Exemptions Apply Only to K-12 Students
Students in Kindergarten through 12th grade are exempt from immunization requirements if a parent or guardian submits a “Personal Beliefs Exemption Form,” which is made available by the Arizona Department of Health Services, to the students’ school. This exemption does not apply to university students or employees unless the respective universities and/or employers have policies to that effect.
Other Considerations for Employers
Certain professions and work environments inherently present a greater risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission. Employers may be inclined to require employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to ensure a safer workplace and to limit their potential liability exposure under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
However, an employee who becomes ill or injured as a result of complying with an employer’s vaccination requirements may potentially be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. Still, the same is true for employees who contract COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should speak with an employment law attorney to discuss their options and to determine whether implementing a vaccination policy is in their organization’s best interest.
About the Author: Alden Thomas is a partner at Jaburg Wilk who primarily practices in the areas of education and employment law. She advises employees and employers in a wide array of issues, including state and federal sick leave, harassment, discrimination, wage and hour, wrongful termination, and whistle blower laws.