Vermont legal expert weighs in on employers requiring vaccines

Local News

MONTPELIER – This week, Governor Phil Scott urged Vermont businesses to consider a vaccine mandate for employees in an effort to curb the spread of the Delta variant, but some might be wondering whether there’s any legal ramifications that could result from instituting one.

In many cases, employees have the option to go with frequent COVID-19 testing instead, but other than that, Vermont Law School Professor Jared Carter said employees will largely have to comply.

“If an employer, a private business, says to protect the health of our business we want to require vaccines and made that their policy, if someone doesn’t want to comply with that, there’s no question they could be fired,” Carter said.

Mandating vaccinations for employees appears to be the next step many are taking in protecting staff members, customers, and their communities. Carter said there are a few exemptions that would likely allow an employee to remain unvaccinated if their boss institutes a mandate.

“Disability rights laws, civil rights laws, religious exemptions perhaps, health exemptions of course,” Carter said. “Reasonable accomodations need to be made, but outside of that, a private business can decide how it wants to conduct its business when it comes to workplace safety, one of which can be a vaccine mandate.”

SunCommon is the largest provider of solar energy systems in Vermont, and on Thursday, it joined the growing list of companies requiring vaccinations. Co-owner Duane Peterson said two months ago, it appeared as though Vermont and the nation were turning a corner – employees returned to their offices, masks came off, and music venues reopened.

Even if that’s still largely the case, the Delta variant has brought a return of that familiar COVID anxiety. Still, Peterson said it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

“We’ve tried to avoid mandating vaccination, you know, it is a little intrusive,” Peterson said. “We came up with all kinds of other protocols and protections along the way, but we finally got to a place with this Delta variant really raging through our communties, particularly affecting children, that we decided ‘ok, this is what we have to do.”

At least five hospitals in Vermont now require employees to get vaccinated, and both the City of Burlington and State of Vermont are considering requirements for their employees.

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