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Michigan attorneys say employers are legally allowed to require their employees to get vaccinated

It's a move that a Grand Rapids attorney expects to come from more companies soon.

Another hospital system in Michigan is now requiring its employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine. Spectrum Health is mandating that thousands of its workers get the shot.

Employers like Spectrum Health are within their legal right to require their workers to get the vaccine, and West Michigan attorneys say that employees will either need a legitimate reason to not get the shot or they may need to consider finding another place to work if they really don't want it. 

It's a move that Labor and Employment Attorney Luis Avila at Varnum LLP expects to come from more companies soon. 

"Just in the last week, I've received several inquiries of employers that have changed their mind from a different stand a few weeks ago where they don't want to have half of their workforce out again like the last year because they get the virus," he says. 

It's something that employers are legally able to do as a condition of employment.

"That's largely stemming from federal law Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that employers are allowed to do this," Avila says. 

There can be exceptions though, related to a disability or religious belief, but employees need to provide proof.

"Otherwise anyone can say they have a religiously held belief, when they really don't," he says.

Bos & Glazier Attorney Brad Glazier says both at the start of the pandemic and in the last few weeks, he's gotten calls from people concerned that their work would require them to get the shot.

"An employee can't simply demand that the rule not apply to them," he says. "The people that we've talked to at our firm have not gone to that next step to say, 'Okay, I'll get a note from my doctor,' or 'I'll talk to my pastor and see what that leads me to do with the employer.'"

If an employee does have the necessary paperwork, then it's up to them to work with the company's human resources department to work out a solution, like wearing a face mask at work or working remotely.

"Generally speaking, the vast majority of the clients I have dealt with that require the vaccine aren't getting a ton of pushback from their employee base," Avila says.

The vaccination mandate at Spectrum Health isn't happening immediately. Employees will be required to get the shot within eight weeks of a vaccine getting full FDA approval. That's expected to happen next month for the Pfizer vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine would follow sometime shortly after that. 

Mercy Health announced the vaccination requirement for its employees three weeks ago.

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