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What to Do When COVID-19 Long-Haulers Seek Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates

June 17, 2022 | Written by Grace

COVID-19 long-haulers—those experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19—who seek disability-related exemptions from mandatory vaccination policies are straining employers’ accommodation processes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) anticipated emergency temporary standard—which will mandate employees of businesses with at least 100 workers get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing—will result in more employers requiring vaccines. OSHA’s rule will almost certainly affirm that employers must accommodate employees who refuse to be vaccinated based on a medical exemption or sincerely held religious belief, said Paula Ketcham, an attorney with Schiff Hardin in Chicago. With the rise of the delta variant, more small employers also are starting to mandate vaccinations.

What if an employer believes that a COVID-19 long-hauler is requesting an exemption simply because the person is opposed to vaccinations rather than having a medical condition that would put that person at risk if he or she was vaccinated?

“Employers should always balance empathy for its staff with the safety of its overall workforce,” said David Epstein, SHRM-SCP, director of domestic human resources at Doctors Without Borders in New York City.

“Those who ask for an exemption from the vaccine should be afforded a pathway to apply for an exemption for medical reasons, and the required interactive dialogue should take place as is required” by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Epstein noted. “After that dialogue takes place, there are two options: a reasonable accommodation, which could include working remotely, or termination of employment if your company requires the vaccine and working remotely causes an undue hardship under the ADA.”

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