Could employers require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

SEATTLE — As the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine could be just days away, many are wondering whether their employers could force workers to get it.

“The simple answer to the question is yes,” said Seattle employment attorney Tim Emery.

Seattle business owner Todd said as soon as the vaccine is readily available, he’ll tell all his employees to get one.

“My gut feeling is you need to. I would definitely hire someone who was willing to take it over someone who wasn’t,” he said.

Emery said there are really are no laws stopping workplaces from making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory. Washington is an at-will employment state where employers can fire workers without warning or cause.

“There are employers in Washington state right now that require vaccines across the board. I can think of multiple employers that do,” said Emery.

But he says in many ways, the coronavirus vaccine is uncharted territory, so it’s unclear how the legality of it will play out.

“There’s no question that an employer can require masks. There’s no question that an employer can require other safety precautions. But I don’t think there’s an easy answer in this situation for whether an employer can mandate a vaccine,” said Emery.

Emery says there are many exceptions for things like religious beliefs, if you have a medical condition or if you’re under contract.

Seattle resident Sandra said she supports the COVID-19 vaccine but doesn’t know if employers should require one.

“Everybody doesn’t have the same situation,” she said.

Experts are expecting lots of legal challenges once the vaccine is available.

“Employers at one point used to be able to require genetic testing. The law really is in flux here,” said Emery.

Emery said we’ll have to wait and see how things play out after the vaccine is widely distributed.

KIRO 7 did speak to a few business owners on Thursday who said they plan on making the vaccinations voluntary.

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