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6.9.21 – Mississippi Clarion Ledger

As Mississippi’s pandemic restrictions loosen and employees return to the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has answered the question some are asking: Yes, employers can mandate employee vaccination against COVID-19.

The pandemic has hit workplaces hard, leaving many employers looking for guidance around safely returning to the workplace while complying with equal employment opportunity laws.

Whether employers can require employee COVID-19 vaccinations was a question high on the list, said Michael Eastman, the Center for Workplace Compliance’s senior vice president of policy and assistant general counsel, at an EEOC meeting.

Newly updated federal equal opportunity laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations. Other laws, not in EEOC’s jurisdiction, may place additional restrictions on employers.

Matt Steffey, a law professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, likened the ability of businesses to require employees to be vaccinated to employers requiring job applicants to have a certain level of education and require proof of that education. A person has the constitutional right to forgo a college education, but they do not have the right to demand to be hired without a degree when a job requires it, Steffey said.

Whether it’s employers requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or hospitals mandating staff flu shots, Steffey said, it’s done to ensure the health and safety of employee and those around them.

James Ryan, EEOC spokesman, noted those with mandatory vaccination requirements need to offer reasonable accommodations to people who fall under EEO exemptions.

For people who do not fall within the exempted groups but say, “No one can make me get a vaccine,” Steffey that decision could come with consequences.

“An employer is generally free to hire or fire for whatever reason that they say, including vaccine status,” he said. 

Mississippi House Bill 719 — aiming to prohibit public and private employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of employees — failed in committee on Feb. 2.

Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg

Forrest General Hospital, Hattiesburg, Miss. Monday, Jan. 8, 2018.

Mandating COVID-19 vaccination? No.

Number of employees? Around 4,000 systemwide.

Michelle Leslie, Forrest General Hospital spokesperson, said administrators are continuing to evaluate the situation regarding mandated employee vaccination. 

Nissan plant in Canton

This 2018 photo  shows truck chassis rolling down an assembly line at Nissan's Canton, Miss., assembly plant.

Mandating COVID-19 vaccination? No.

Number of employees? More than 5,000.

“We are encouraging all Nissan employees to educate themselves about the available vaccines and talk with their medical professionals about the best course of action for them,” Lloryn Love-Carter, Nissan spokesperson, said.

All U.S. Nissan workers returned to plants last June, Love-Carter said. Since then, they’ve followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. They’ve implemented:

  • Daily self-health checks for all employees and visitors.
  • Modified work stations, staggered shifts and breaktimes, and minimized job rotations to adhere to the CDC’s social distancing recommendation.
  • Upped disinfection protocols for workstations, common areas and shared tools.

University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson

The new medical education building at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was dedicated in August 2017.

Mandating COVID-19 vaccination? No.

Number of employees? Around 10,000.

Marc Rolph, UMMC spokesperson, said the company is “advising and encouraging” employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

UMMC follows the CDC’s extensive guidelines laid out for health care workers and facilities, including increased sanitization and mask-wearing for all staff, patients and visitors on the premise. 

This story will update with other Mississippi employers’ decisions and guidance.