What to Do When Your Dental Employee Refuses the COVID-19 Vaccine
Unfortunately, there are few areas in public and health policy today as contentious as the COVID-19 vaccine, and it remains a significant source of controversy. There is currently an extensive legal debate about whether or not the federal government can implement such a vaccine mandate on large businesses and medical practices— like your dental practice, and that case is winding its way through the court system.
As a dental practitioner, you work with patients who may be particularly at risk for contracting COVID, and for the safety of them — as well as your team — you may require that all who work for you have the COVID-19 vaccine. However, life can get complicated if an employee refuses to get the vaccine. That's why it is important to understand precisely what to do in these situations.
Can I Require My Employees to Get the Vaccine?
The answer is yes, but there are exceptions and clarifications.
First, the obvious: As a private dental practice, you may require anyone who works for you to get the vaccine. You may also require that employees show proof of having obtained the vaccine, with a COVID-19 vaccination card typically being sufficient proof. In these instances, it is vital that you track this documentation. Doing so must be done in a way that is secure and respects the privacy of your employee’s medical records.
Additionally, depending on your city or state, you may have a local vaccine mandate in place. This is something that your practice should check with local authorities.
However, all this does not mean your employees will decide to get vaccinated. For a variety of reasons, many employees are refusing to do so.
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What About Exemptions?
There are exemptions that are legally required and protected under the law. Generally speaking, these exemptions fall into one of two categories:
- Religious: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees are protected from any workplace consequences that pertain to sincerely held religious beliefs. This means individuals sometimes avoid mandates by saying that vaccinations go against their religion. However, these exemptions can be challenged in court, and the courts have not always ruled in favor of the individuals claiming an exemption. Applicants who say the vaccination mandate violates their religion must be able to prove their sincere belief in that religion and explain how a vaccination violates their religious beliefs.
- Medical: Some people have been advised by a medical professional to avoid getting a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons. These are often individuals who had an acute reaction to the first vaccine, and were told by their doctors not to get the second one. Your practice may require proof — such as a statement from your employee's doctor — that confirms a medical need for the employee to abstain from getting vaccinated.
Determining the validity of these exemptions can be tricky, and generally speaking, you should not do so on your own. There is a long history of court cases that pertain to these exemptions, and failing to properly grant an exemption when an employee is legally entitled to one can open you and your practice up to serious legal liability.
Can I Fire an Employee for Refusing a Vaccine?
While laws pertaining to vaccines continue to evolve, it has been made clear by repeated federal court decisions that employers can set vaccine mandates at work in certain fields, such as dental practices. Indeed, across the nation, major hospital systems have been firing doctors, nurses, and other dental practice employees who have refused to get the vaccine in violation of their employers' policies. These actions have been challenged in court, but courts have consistently ruled that hospital systems do have the right to fire employees who refuse to get vaccinated.
This is not to say that you are guaranteed to avoid a lawsuit — or even to win a case — if you require your employees to get vaccinated. However, case law is on the side of medical and dental practices that want to fire an employee for refusing to get vaccinated.
That being said, the legality of exemptions is still clear. Therefore, it is vital that you create an exemption process, along with set criteria for applying for such exemptions, and explain when such exemptions will be given and when they will not be. This can be a complicated process, and you may benefit from bringing in outside assistance to create such a policy.
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How HR for Health Can Help
In your dental practice, you have more than enough on your plate when it comes to managing your patients and expanding your practice. You may not have the time or resources to manage complicated HR policies, including creating and enforcing a COVID-19 vaccination policy.
At HR for Health, we can do all that and more, allowing you to spend your time where it should be: taking care of your patients. We also have templates available for practices in order to implement vaccination policies. For more information, click here to schedule a no-obligation, 15-minute demo.