State provides some clarity on whether businesses can require their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 9:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Can employers require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination? A state agency shed a little light on that subject in a recent response to legislators.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services provided some clarity on the question in a letter prepared along with the Alaska Department of Law to answer questions legislators had in a March 24 hearing on whether to extend Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration.

Corey Young, deputy press secretary for the Office of the Governor, shared that letter after Alaska’s News Source reached out on Monday seeking information on whether employers could require employees to be vaccinated.

“Private businesses have broad latitude to set the rules on access to their places of business subject to a certain state, local and federal laws, of which civil rights laws requiring that private businesses not engage in unlawful discrimination are a primary example,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to say that private businesses are able to take some actions to restrict access to their business or store “based on vaccination status in general,” but that they may be limited in cases in which people have medical or religious reasons for not getting vaccinated.

“Additionally, with respect to any vaccine passport requirement for travel or for access to governmental or private business services, jobs or programs, those rules must be balanced to the person’s constitutional rights,” the letter continues. “Given the infringement on individual liberty, the constitutional right to travel and right to privacy would be primary concerns.”

Eric Meyer, a partner at the law firm FisherBroyles, also weighed in.

“There are a couple of exceptions if you are going to have a vaccine mandate,” he said. “If I have an allergy to the vaccine or if I have some other disability which precludes me from getting the vaccine, then the employer may be required to accommodate my disability if there is a reasonable accommodation available to the employer that wouldn’t create some kind of, undo, what the law calls undue hardship.”

Information from DHSS and the Department of Law regarding businesses and vaccines.
Information from DHSS and the Department of Law regarding businesses and vaccines.(DHSS)

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