Covid-19: Know your rights

Since March 2020, the virus has been a huge disruption to our way of life and has forced educators to navigate unchartered waters when it comes to working conditions and educating Florida’s youth. As we continue to deal with the pandemic, new issues emerge.

Can employers require that employees take one of the new Covid-19 vaccines?

Given the public health risk of Covid-19 in school settings and institutions of higher education, our conclusion is that employers can require vaccination subject to any specific exemptions to which individuals may be entitled and any express reservations as to the safety of the vaccine for certain groups such as pregnant or breastfeeding women or immunocompromised individuals.

The main two categories of exemption are religious beliefs, observances and practices pursuant to Title VII when requested, and establishing a qualified disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that would make it medically contraindicated to receive a vaccine. Please note that FEA is NOT advocating for mandatory vaccination.

Covid-19 contact tracing and disclosure requirements

The responsibility for Covid-19 contact tracing rests with our state and local public health agencies based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. However, those guidelines do NOT restrict those agencies, including our local health departments, from enlisting the support of other entities, including local school districts.

Local health department officials or medical personnel are charged with giving notice to any person who tests positive. Since a positive test is private health information, this information and the person’s identity are confidential. While the district should not share the identity of the person who tested positive (with anyone except the person), making others aware of potential exposure is appropriate. There is no blanket right to know the identity of the person. However, a member may ask district administration or health department officials whether the person testing positive is one of their students.

ADA accommodations

Reasonable accommodations are available to individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for qualifying disabilities. First, it is recommended that you obtain a medical diagnosis as to your underlying condition. Once you and your physician have determined that you have an underlying condition, a request for a reasonable accommodation is made. Reasonable accommodations to mitigate Covid-19 exposure might include installing a Plexiglas shield, additional cleaning of surfaces, extra space for social distancing, moving a desk or workstation farther from other workers, staggering work hours or work breaks to reduce contact with other employees, or working remotely. Once you file your request for accommodation, the employer is supposed to consider your request and engage with you in a flexible, interactive process to try to find a suitable accommodation. Please note, if after going through the interactive process, the employer determines that the only reasonable accommodation available would cause an “undue hardship,” then the employer is not required to provide the accommodation.

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