FAQ: Can Trucking Companies Require Drivers to Get COVID-19 Vaccine?
Washington D.C. – Truckers will likely soon be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but can trucking companies require drivers to receive it?
This is a frequently asked question among truckers and carrier executives alike, so let’s take a few minutes to delve into the topic.
First, let’s look at current guidance on the issue from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to the CDC, employers can require employees to be vaccinated, but exceptions do apply.
For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows employees to be exempted on the basis of a medical condition such as a disability or an allergy to one of the vaccine components.
Employees can also refuse the vaccine based on a deeply held religious belief by claiming protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
EEOC guidance states “once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship.”
Jack Finklea is a partner at leading transportation law firm Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, and recently told Transportation Nation Network (TNN) the law neither expressly allows employers to mandate employees get a vaccine nor does it prohibit such a mandate.
“The general consensus with respect to employers requiring vaccines is that it is likely allowed as long as certain exceptions are made,” Finklea told TNN in an exclusive interview. “Observing those exceptions, it is understood that requiring a vaccine would generally be allowable.”
Can an employee who does not have a legitimate claim to a medical or religious exception be placed on temporary leave without pay or fired for refusing the vaccine?
Technically, the answer is “yes.”
However, Finklea advises that due to the competitive nature of recruiting and retaining good truck drivers, carriers would likely pursue other options before making such a decision.
“To the extent a driver is hesitant to receive the vaccine, the motor carrier can go through any number of steps to make drivers feel a little more comfortable, including helping drivers understand that the company is just helping satisfy its obligation under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide a safe work environment and to provide incentives to taking the vaccine,” he said.
What about lease owner operators and independent contractors?
Carriers cannot expressly require lease operators or independent contractors it does business with to get the vaccine, but can strongly encourage and even incentivize it.
Another factor to consider is the requirements of the shipper/receiver.
According to Finklea, shippers and receivers are bound by OSHA regulations to ensure a safe working environment.
“There are some discrimination protections that might come into play, but as a general rule, customers are going to be able to control the safety of their premises,” he explained. “You’re still going to have that contact and the issue of, ‘How do we keep the people who are coming into contact with our employees safe?’ And from that perspective, it’s going to be similar with respect to owner operators and company drivers.”
Will major trucking companies require employees to be vaccinated?
Many trucking fleet executives are having these conversations right now.
“We’ve talked with clients who have been on both sides of the issue — some considering requiring the vaccine and others considering encouraging vaccination but not requiring it,” Finklea informed TNN. “I think companies will continue to fall on both sides in the industry. There is simply no way to know until it happens, until we get a little further down the road.”
COVID-19 vaccination will be a “transformational issue.”
The debates around COVID-19 vaccination are only just beginning, which is why Finklea believes it will soon become a “transformational issue.”
“OSHA and the EEOC are set to provide some more guidance as things progress so vaccination will continue to be a transformational issue that gets moved and shaped as we go along,” he said. “It might be that in three months things look a lot different than they do now and the guidance from the EEOC and OSHA is a lot different than it is now, we just don’t know.”
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