(Reuters) – U.S. private companies have the right under the law to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but they are unlikely to do so because of the risks of legal and cultural backlash, experts say.
Companies are still in the early stages of navigating the supply and distribution of vaccines against the disease caused by the new coronavirus, but inoculation is considered the key to safely resuming operations in tight warehouses, factory lines and on sales floors.
"Companies all have good reason to vaccinate all their employees and also have an obligation to keep all employees and customers safe," said Lawrence Gostin, a global professor of health sciences at Georgetown University.
Mr. Gostin and five other health law experts said that private companies in the United States have broad freedoms to set health and safety standards, which would allow them to prescribe vaccinations as employment conditions with some exceptions.
The Gender Equality Commission in May said employers should force employees to get a coronavirus test before allowed them to return to work, a decision that some experts said could be extended to include vaccine mandates.
But Robert Field, a professor of law and public health at Drexel University, said companies considering mandates should wait for vaccines to undergo a full-fledged statutory review process.
"Employers are on shakier grounds due to permits that for emergency use, "Field said, adding that there was no precedent for vaccine mandates during that phase.
U.S. courts that have ruled on lawsuits by health care professionals who oppose an employer-mandated flu vaccine have largely been side by side with hospitals as long as they provided reasonable exemption policies, court records show.
In Europe, companies face a patchwork of national vaccination regulations, with some countries prescribing childhood vaccines, but European employers are generally not required to prescribe vaccination for staff, experts say.
In France, which in 201
In Germany, currently only measles vaccines are mandatory for certain employees and companies do not have a sufficient legal basis to order COVID-19 vaccination, says Pauline Moritz, a Frankfurt-based one.
And in the UK, the government has no legal authority to force vaccination and employers trying to mandate vaccines would likely face human rights problems, Morgan Lewis's employment lawyers wrote in a blog post.
USA To date, agencies have not considered COVID-19 vaccine mandates, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has previously stated that employers have the right to mandate vaccines.
OSHA referred a request for comment to the US Department of Health and Human Services, which did not respond.
Vaccine mandate unlikely
US companies so far shy away from discussing vaccine mandates, before the formal approval of a vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Ford Motor Co., which has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers to distribute vaccines to employees, says they would be made available on a voluntary basis.
A spokeswoman for Kellogg Co. said the company worked with a medical expert and industry organizations to make vaccines available to employees on a voluntary basis, in accordance with local and regional regulations.
"Companies can theoretically issue a mandate, but in the current political climate, it is very unlikely that they will do so," said Peter Meyers, a law professor at George Washington University Law School. "Americans tend to shy away from mandates."
Surveys have shown that many Americans have safety concerns with a COVID-19 vaccine, with almost half of the 10,000 respondents surveyed in a Pew survey in September saying they would definitely or probably not get the vaccine.
Some experts said that all vaccine mandates would lead to disputes. Cases alleging violations of religious freedom may make it a more conservative Supreme Court in the United States.
Vaccine mandates are common in the US healthcare industry, where many hospitals require staff to take annual flu shots and all US states require vaccines for school children.
Employees and parents can largely oppose vaccines for two reasons: medical conditions that contraindicate vaccination or – depending on the US state – religious or personal beliefs.
Certain trade union agreements with individual employers, in particular in the healthcare industry. , also prevent mandatory vaccines.
If an employee rejects vaccination for religious reasons, an employer must make a reasonable effort to satisfy the worker, such as offering a transfer to another department with fewer personal interactions or mandate masks, says Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, law professor at UC Hastings.
To date, two companies, Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., have asked the US Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use permit for their vaccine candidates.
The chief adviser to the US government's vaccine program COVID-19 said on Tuesday that 20 million people could be vaccinated by the end of 2020, and that by mid-2021 most Americans will have access to highly effective vaccines.
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