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Saturday, 29 May 2021

Updated guidance from EEOC notes some exceptions; incentives are allowed

U.S. employers could require all workers physically entering a workplace to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the federal government said Friday.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued updated guidance stating that federal laws don’t prevent an employer from requiring workers to be vaccinated.

However, in some circumstances, federal laws may require the employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of a disability or a religious belief, aren’t vaccinated. For example, the EEOC said as a reasonable accommodation, an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace might wear a face mask, work at a social distance or be given the opportunity to telework.

The new guidelines also say that federal laws don’t prevent or limit incentives that can be offered to workers to voluntarily take the vaccine. And employers that are administering vaccines to their employees may also offer incentives, as long as the incentives aren’t coercive.

The updated guidance is intended to answer frequently asked questions, EEOC Chairwoman Charlotte Burrows said. She said the agency will continue to update and clarify its assistance for employers.

The commission is an independent, bipartisan agency that enforces workplace civil-rights laws. The five-person body is led by Ms. Burrows, a Democrat whom President Biden elevated to the top position. It also includes three Republican members nominated by former President Donald Trump. Some employers have offered bonuses to workers who take the shot. Retailer Dollar General Corp. is offering four hours of pay to those who take the shot, and Bolthouse Farms, a maker of juices and salad dressings, said it would pay $500 to full-time hourly workers who get the Covid-19 vaccine. Retailer Trader Joe’s, delivery service Instacart Inc. and meat producers Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and JBS USA Holdings Inc. said they would give vaccine incentives.

JBS USA, the biggest U.S. beef processor, and Pilgrim’s Pride, a top poultry supplier, won’t require plant workers to get the vaccine, a spokesman for the companies said. A Bolthouse Farms spokesman said the company didn’t have plans to mandate vaccinations. Dollar General, Trader Joe’s and Instacart Inc. didn’t respond to requests to comment Friday.

Keira Lombardo, chief administrative officer for Smithfield Foods, said the pork giant is making vaccines available for plant workers but isn’t requiring them at this time.

The EEOC said employers may provide employees and their family members information about the benefits of vaccines and how to obtain them. It noted the vaccines are avail- able free of charge.

The guidance comes as more employees are returning to work sites, and separate federal agencies have said mask wearing isn’t required for vaccinated individuals.

Edwin Egee, vice president for government relations and workforce development at the National Retail Federation, said he didn’t know of any NRF members that had mandated vaccines, and he didn’t expect that to change much, if at all, based on the EEOC guidance. Instead, he expects the guidance to help employers encourage workers to get vaccinated.