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Can my employer make me get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Lawyers are using guidance about the flu vaccine to determine the legality of requiring a vaccine to the coronavirus.

TAMPA, Fla. — As the U.S. gets closer to a potential timeline of when a COVID-19 vaccine could become available, questions about what happens after its release are numerous.

People want to know when the vaccine is released, who will get it first? How will it be distributed? Will there be enough doses? Could they be required for students? Can my employer make me get one?

When a vaccine becomes available, it's likely that employers may want to consider implementing a policy where employees must get the vaccine to protect the health and safety of staff, but lawyers say it may be unlikely to actually happen.

"Right now, you could insist on a mandatory vaccine but it's not going to be mandatory categorically for everyone because there are some exemptions to keep in mind," said Alissa Kranz, a business attorney at Lieser Skaff Alexander in Tampa.

Kranz says people can always request exemptions based on medical reasons and religious reasons, so an employer can't force every employee to get vaccinated.

"This is my opinion based on the laws we already have. COVID itself has not been written about, but the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) currently talks about the flu so we've based our advice based on the information we already have," Kranz said.

Employers can host vaccine events as they do for flu shots, encouraging all employees to get them and legally could require it, although employees can file exemptions for many reasons. "But feeling uncomfortable or ethics or even medical concerns that don't rise to the level of a disability or severe adverse reaction isn't really going to cut it," Kranz said.

So the bottom line is yes, your employer could require a COVID-19 vaccine but they likely won't because of all of the issues that could stem from a hard requirement. 

If you feel that your workplace isn't taking appropriate steps to protect staff from COVID-19, you can file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

There are currently 51 projects across the globe aimed at creating a vaccine to COVID-19. Eleven of those are in phase three and being tested on humans. Johnson & Johnson temporarily paused its trial after a patient suffered an "unexplained illness."

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