Business owners ponder whether to require COVID-19 shots

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Geller Family Dental

In this photo provided by Geller Family Dental, Dr. Andrew A. Geller, general and cosmetic dentist at Geller Family Dental has his temperature taken at the entry to his office on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Bronxville, N.Y. As more coronavirus vaccine doses become available, many business owners face a difficult decision: whether to require employees to be inoculated. Geller initially didnt feel comfortable with requiring his staff to get the shots because of the many unknowns about the vaccine. But he did extensive research and concluded that the 23 employees at Geller Family Dental should be vaccinated. (Constantine Venetopoulos/Geller Family Dental via AP)

NEW YORK – As more coronavirus vaccine doses become available in the weeks and months ahead, many business owners face a difficult decision: whether to require employees to be inoculated.

And if they decide “yes,” they have to be ready for the possibility that some staffers will refuse.

Dentist Andrew Geller initially didn’t feel comfortable with requiring his staff to get the shots because of the many unknowns about the vaccine. But he did extensive research and concluded that the 23 employees at Geller Family Dental should be vaccinated. Turns out most were grateful that as health workers they could receive the vaccine when it first arrived.

However, Geller did have more difficult conversations with a handful of employees who were uneasy about getting the shots.

“I did my best to ensure them that this was going to maintain the health and safety of their families. It took a little bit longer for some to make an appointment, but they did, thankfully,” says Geller, whose practice is located in Bronxville, New York.

State governments determine who can be vaccinated and when; in most states, priority has been given to health workers, first responders and older people, but employees of some businesses — for example, restaurant workers in New York — are eligible. The general population isn’t expected to be vaccinated until the spring at the earliest, so most business owners still must decide what their policy on vaccinations will be.

It's not known how many employers will require staffers to get the vaccine — and many companies likely haven't made a decision. About two-thirds of Americans say they plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, according to a poll released Wednesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey also found that 15% of Americans say they will definitely not get the vaccine and another 17% say they probably will not.

Employers can require many staffers to be vaccinated under guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They can’t require inoculations for employees with medical conditions protected by the Americans with Disability Act or those who object to vaccinations for religious reasons. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more workers, and some state and municipal laws cover smaller businesses. Owners must find what the law calls a reasonable accommodation to allow these staffers to keep working. One example during the pandemic would be an assignment that could be done in a space a safe distance from co-workers or customers.