Can employers require staff to get COVID vaccine? State guidance is unclear

Can employers require staff to get COVID vaccine? State guidance is unclear

Olivia Sandusky

The first phase of coronavirus vaccinations is broken into different proposed groups by the Centers for Disease Control. 

 Group one A covers health care personnel, while one B includes essential services like agriculture and grocery store workers.

“As the vaccines become available, we wanted to make sure that we did not lose that priority, and it’s not because we think we’re anything special beyond anybody else. The folks that are in that food supply chain are critical,” said Joe Duffle, president of United Food and Commercial Worker 1167.

The UFCW union recently announced 350 frontline workers have died from the coronavirus.

And county data shows thousands of farmworkers have tested positive as well.

“Over and over again we continue to hear from farmworkers that either they have been sick or they have family members who have passed away who were farm workers,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of the UFW Foundation. 

But while cases in these industries continue to rise, one question remains unanswered:

Can employers require their employees to get vaccinated?

CDC Guidance says that employers can require employees to get vaccinated for specific things, including a flu shot or hepatitis a, but there are several exemptions.

Today, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing tells NBC Palm Springs. “We do not have public vaccine guidance at this time.”

With little direction available from the state, both unions are trying to prepare for a variety of scenarios.

“I really believe it’s going to be something that comes down from the state level or the federal level.  Now if it does not come down to that, then it’s going to be whatever the employer wants to do, but I will tell you with the collective bargaining agreements, we will at least be able to have a dialogue first to see what that looks like,” said Duffle.

Diana says their group will learn more about vaccinations within the next week.

“That is more information to come to the state. But we have our next meeting next week where I’m sure they’ll be providing us quite a bit of information,” said Tellefson Torres.


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