Conversation Guide: Employer Vaccine Requirements

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With increasing numbers of governmental and private organizations and businesses mandating vaccinations, it is understandable that employees have questions about what the vaccination mandates mean for them.  For individuals in refugee, immigrant and migrant communities, language and other barriers can make it more difficult to have these questions answered by their work supervisor or human resources representative. Instead, they may bring these questions to client-facing staff in refugee service agencies and community-based organizations. 

The guide is designed to assist client-facing staff in answering those questions with information from reliable and trusted sources, while staying within their scope and role. Given that laws may differ from state to state and that businesses may institute different protocols and mandates, clients may need to be referred back to their employer or to state guidelines for questions related to their individual situation. 

The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. Laws and policies can change rapidly. Consult with a legal professional for the most up-to-date information.

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Q: What does it mean if my employer is mandating the COVID-19 vaccine?

If your employer is mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, they are requiring all their employees to get vaccinated. A similar example of a mandate is that many employers also require employees to get the flu vaccine. More and more employers, including the federal government, are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. 

For information about COVID-19 vaccines in multiple languages view NRC-RIM's fact sheets

Q: How do I get a vaccine?

Ask your employer if they will offer vaccines at your workplace. You can also get one at your local pharmacy, doctor’s office, or through a mobile vaccination program or vaccination site. This website can help you find a vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines are free for all, you do not need health insurance or an ID, and your immigration status does not matter. Learn more 

Some employers offer paid time off for you to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects. Ask your employer if this benefit is available to you.

Q: What if I am only partially vaccinated? Can I still go to work?

This decision will vary by employer and we recommend you check directly with your employer. 

If you are partially vaccinated, then you are not fully protected from COVID-19 and your employer may want you to follow the same restrictions that unvaccinated employees follow. These restrictions may include frequent COVID-19 testing, mask wearing, or working from home (if that is an option).

You are not fully protected from COVID-19 until two weeks after your last shot. If you received a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), you are fully vaccinated two weeks after your second shot. If you received a one-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson), you are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after your shot. Learn more

Q: What if I have a medical or cultural/religious reason that makes me not able to get the vaccine – are there any alternatives?

Exemptions will depend on the kind of job you have, your employer, and your state’s regulations. Generally, employers are expected to make “reasonable” accommodations for people who have medical, cultural, or religious reasons for not getting the vaccine. These accommodations could include regular testing, changes to your job assignment, or even unpaid leave. The only way to know for sure is to contact your employer.

For cultural/religious concerns: It may be helpful to talk with a trusted religious or cultural community leader about any concerns around the COVID-19 vaccine. Many leaders have said the COVID-19 vaccine is culturally and religiously necessary in order to protect the community. The COVID-19 vaccine is also halal

For medical concerns: You may also find it helpful to talk with a trusted medical provider about your concerns. There are very few underlying medical conditions that would prevent a person from getting the vaccine.

People with underlying medical conditions are often encouraged to get the vaccine because they are more at risk for serious illness and even death from COVID-19. Ultimately your healthcare provider is the best person to advise you about whether to get the vaccine based on your specific medical concerns. 

Q: Can I get fired if I don’t want to take the vaccine?

As of September 2021, the federal government issued guidance that will require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment for all federal workers and contractors. This new rule requiring COVID-19 vaccination also includes all health care providers that accept Medicare and Medicaid and all federal employees and contractors for Head Start Programs, Department of Defense Schools and the Bureau of Indian Education operated schools. If you work for the federal government or as a federal contractor, at this time, you can be fired for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

Additionally new federal rules will mandate that all employers in the US with over 100 employees either require vaccination of their workforce or perform weekly COVID-19 tests of unvaccinated workers. If your employer falls within this category, you will either have to get the COVID-19 vaccine or complete weekly COVID-19 tests as a condition of continued employment. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently working on creating specific guidelines to cover businesses and workers that fall into the above categories. OSHA is expected to publish these rules and procedures, along with a timeline for these regulations to come into effect in October  2021.

For other employers that fall outside of these groups, it is not required at this time that they mandate the COVID-19vaccine for their workforce. Each employer may have different rules regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, it is permissible in many states to fire employees who do not follow an employer’s vaccine mandate.

Q: What if I’m an independent contractor (1099)? Can my contracting organization require me to get vaccinated if they’re not technically my employer?

If you are a federal independent contractor (1099), your contracting organization may require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of being contracted to provide services. Ask your contracting organization for more information on their COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Q: My employer is asking me to verify my vaccine status. How do I prove that I’m vaccinated?

It is best to check with your employer about company-specific vaccine policies. In general, if you were vaccinated in the US, you can show them the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card you were given when you were vaccinated. Check with your Human Resources team if you need assistance in providing proof of COVID-19 vaccination. 

If you were fully vaccinated outside the US, you can show your employer the vaccine record you received from the site and country where you were vaccinated. If your employer does not recognize that card as being valid, you can direct them to this CDC webpage, which gives guidance on people who have been vaccinated outside the US.  If your vaccination meets the CDC’s requirements but your employer still has concerns, you may be able to talk with your healthcare provider to see if they can write a letter that details how the vaccination you received outside of the US meets the CDC’s requirements. 

Q: What do I do if I lost my vaccination card?

If you were vaccinated in the US: If you were not given a COVID-19 vaccination card or it is lost, you can first try asking your vaccine provider for a replacement card or proof of vaccination. If this is not possible, you can try contacting your state's health department. Each state has an immunization registry where you may be able to look up your vaccine record online. COVID-19 vaccine registries vary by US state and sometimes by city. 

If you were vaccinated outside the U.S.: It will be very difficult for you to replace your card if you were vaccinated outside the US. Talk with your healthcare provider about your options. You may need to be vaccinated again in the US.

Are employers allowed to ask me for my health records? What am I required to share as proof of my COVID-19 vaccine? 

The CDC states that when asking for proof of COVID-19 vaccines, employers are NOT allowed to ask for any accompanying medical information. You only need to show proof of your COVID-19 vaccination (for many, this would be the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record).

Q: What if I miss work due to negative side effects from the vaccine? What if my children or someone else in my family has side effects and I need to take care of them – can I take off from work? 

In September of 2021, the federal government announced a new upcoming rule that will require employers to give paid time off to workers to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects from getting vaccinated. OSHA is preparing guidelines for this rule that are expected to come out in October of 2021. Check for updates from OSHA on the guidelines.

While we wait for updated guidelines to be published by OSHA, sick leave policies around days off for getting the COVID-19 vaccine will vary by employer, and state and local laws. While many employers are being encouraged to provide paid time off for employees and their families to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and recover from any short-term side effects, it is not yet required. In all cases, it is recommended to verify specific policies and amount of paid or unpaid sick leave with your employer. 

I am not vaccinated yet and I use an alias with my employer. Which name should I put on my vaccine card?

If you need to show your card to your employer to prove that you were vaccinated, it might make sense for you to tell the person giving you the vaccine that you would like your alias on the card. In some cases, health workers may be willing to give you two cards - one for each name.

I was vaccinated before my employer required COVID-19 vaccines for employees, and I have a different name on my vaccine card than what I use with my employer. How do I prove that I am vaccinated?

Contact your healthcare provider and ask if they will give you a second copy of your card that has your alias so that you can prove to your employer that you received the vaccine.