Can your employer require a COVID-19 vaccination?
What to know about vaccine requirements in Washington
There’s been a lot of talk about vaccine requirements over the last several weeks. You may even have some conversations about it at your workplace. With the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine (now known as Comirnaty), we can expect these conversations to continue for some time.
Chances are, you know someone whose employer has vaccination requirements in place (or soon will).
It’s not often that conversations about health care get brought into the workplace — so these conversations may feel unsettling. That’s why it’s always OK to ask questions along the way. We dive into a few commonly asked questions below.
What workplaces require vaccines?
There are requirements at both the federal (national) and state level. Both will apply to workers in Washington.
President Biden recently announced that all businesses in the U.S. with 100 or more people will need to require employees to be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. He also announced that federal government employees and contractors will now be required to be fully vaccinated, as well as workers at health care facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. There is no alternative testing option for these groups.
These requirements will apply to a large portion of workers in Washington. Our state also has its own requirements for:
- Health care workers and long-term care workers
- Cabinet agency state employees
- Employees in educational settings, including:
- Employees and contractors working for private K-12 schools, public K-12 school districts, charter schools, and educational service districts (the order does not apply to state-tribal education compact schools or their students)
- Childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households
- Employees in higher education
These requirements are not unique to Washington. Several other states have requirements in place for the same industries.
Guidance is updated from the federal and state government often. We recommend referencing this site for the latest.
And remember, any employer can set requirements, even if they don’t fall under the groups mentioned above.
Why would a company have a vaccine requirement?
For most companies, it’s about protecting their employees and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Like any gathering, being in an office or other work setting can increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. That risk is reduced when people are fully vaccinated. Other companies may have additional reasons — like getting back to the office sooner.
Talk to your Human Resources department if you’re wondering why your company has a requirement in place (or doesn’t have one yet).
While vaccine requirements in the workplace are getting a lot of attention now, they’re not new. In fact, they date back over 100 years and we even won the Revolutionary War thanks to a smallpox vaccine requirement.
Are there any exceptions?
It depends. In some settings, employers may have an alternative to vaccination, such as regular testing for employees.
The best thing you can do is to contact your employer with your questions. Find out how they collect proof of vaccination, if they have an opt-out policy, and what you would need to do to opt out.
The Department of Health is not involved in this process and doesn’t provide exemption forms for the COVID-19 vaccine at this time.
Are COVID-19 vaccines required for students? Or any other settings?
Many colleges and universities are requiring students to be fully vaccinated. This is in line with other vaccines required for students to enter campus. At this time, COVID-19 vaccines are not required for K-12 students.
Other settings may require proof of vaccination — including restaurants, bars, and events. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a photo of your vaccine card handy, and to have a digital record of your vaccine using MyIR Mobile. If you have any questions, give the business or event organizers a call before you go.
This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 12 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.
WA Notify can alert you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your phone today: WANotify.org
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.