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Employers must provide their workers a safe workplace, and in my experience, employers want to offer a safe workplace: They care about their employees (how else would the work get done?) and, so long as it does not impact the bottom line too much, they are typically willing to implement measures to allow workers a safe and healthy workplace.

As soon as the COVID vaccine became available, the question arose whether employers could require its employees to take the vaccine. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new Guidelines answering yes (though with some exceptions).

A hundred years ago, the debate was quite different. Employers wanted no restrictions on their workplaces, including safety restrictions.

Many workplaces were filled with toxic chemicals, giant unregulated machines and no fire exits. There were some spectacular disasters, including the Pemberton Mill collapse in 1860 that resulted in the death of 145 workers.

Congress later created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EEOC, among others, to protect and regulate American workplaces. I had the pleasure of working with the EEOC for several years and saw the good work they can do to protect American workers.

The tension over the COVID vaccine comes from employers worrying that a COVID-positive employee coming into the workplace will infect other workers. Given the contagiousness of COVID, the employer may then have a sick workforce with greatly reduced output. This scenario has hampered the US Postal Service, as an example.

Moreover, employers worry about their liability to a healthy employee or a customer who is exposed to COVID through their workplace, though the dust has not yet settled on much of the COVID related litigation.

Bottom line — much like employers can require workers to wear safety gear or take drug tests or that a school can require vaccinations of students and faculty, employers can require the COVID vaccination for employees.

Let’s trust science and get through this!