The recent COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a flurry of interest in vaccine mandates – and the exemptions that people can receive to avoid being immunized. It’s been reported that the number of people seeking these exemptions has risen dramatically and governments and private employers have issued new requirements mandating vaccination for employees.
How these exemptions are being handled, however, is not always very clear. Let’s take a closer look at how vaccine mandates work in Connecticut, with particular emphasis on the workplace.
How Vaccine Mandates Work
Many states have historically had laws requiring that residents receive vaccinations offering protection from various contagious illnesses before enrolling in schools or accepting certain jobs. Because not everyone can receive a vaccination safely, these requirements typically included provisions for opting out of the mandate for health reasons. Religious exemptions were also available for those who believed vaccination ran counter to their faith.
In early 2021, Connecticut became just one of six states to ban religious exemptions for school vaccine mandates. Workplace requirements, however, remain slightly different, as the religious exemption remains in place.
Under Connecticut law, employers can choose to require workers to receive immunizations (including for COVID-19) for continued employment. The law does require that “reasonable accommodations” be made for religious beliefs, disabilities, and pregnancy. However, there is a significant gray area involved.
Can Workers Get a Letter from a Doctor or Religious Figure for an Exemption?
The answer here is a qualified maybe. Employers generally handle these exemptions on a case-by-case basis. A letter submitted from a physician or religious authority may or may not be sufficient to receive an exemption. Employers will generally examine whether such religious beliefs are sincerely held, or whether the medical conditions are significant enough to merit an exemption.
Employers are generally advised to create a standardized process for evaluating exemptions. Employers are also advised to pay for vaccinations, or ensure insurers do, and give workers sufficient time to get the immunization. If accommodations are necessary for unvaccinated workers, employers are asked to do so by state law, as long as they do not cause an undue burden to the employer.
What Happens if Employers Violate State Law?
If employers fail to act in accordance with Connecticut laws regarding vaccinations, workers should consider speaking to an attorney who can help protect their rights.
The right Connecticut workplace attorney can help ensure that your rights as an employee are fully protected.