Can your boss mandate you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
MADISON, Wis. - Can your boss mandate you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Wisconsin business owners are figuring out their policies as the state prepares to open eligibility to all on May 1.
As of Wednesday, March 24, Wisconsin had administered 2.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, as a bill works its way through the Legislature that states a boss could not mandate vaccines.
The Assembly passed it 59-35 -- with all Republicans for it and all Democrats opposed.
At Inpro Corporation in Muskego, they’re not mandating a COVID-19 vaccination.
"We have enough employees that aren’t too happy about the fact that they are mandated to wear masks. To mandate that they get vaccinated as a condition of employment," said Phil Ziegler, CEO. "I think is just a little bit over the top."
Instead, Ziegler is setting an example -- getting the shot himself and rewarding workers who get fully vaccinated -- offering a day off.
"We’re just trying to educate people," said Ziegler. "It’s good for you. Let’s get it done. Get another day off. So that’s our position, but we’re not mandating it."
Employers could use another incentive from the recent COVID-19 relief bill, signed by President Biden. It allows employers the option to offer emergency paid sick leave, which would be reiumbursed to the employer through a tax credit.
"Effective April 1, employees will get another 80 hours of that leave, and that kind of leave can be used for getting the vaccine, for any ill effects related to the vaccine, and employers have the right (they don’t have to), the right to do that," said employment law attorney Mark Goldstein.
Wisconsin law currently allows employers to mandate workers get a vaccination with exemptions for medical reasons or religious beliefs.
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Goldstein says it's tricky.
"There’s only so far you can go," said Goldstein. "First of all, you can get into the ADA and disability-related conversations, but the other is you get into this uncomfortable conversation about prying about someone’s religious feelings and sincerely-held beliefs, so that is a challenge and our advice to clients is to ask those questions, but only go so far."
The FDA is allowing the COVID-19 vaccines under Emergency Use Authorization, which means people can refuse, but employment law experts tell FOX6 News that bosses could still require it to return to work. The complex issue could lead to legal challenges.
The CDC puts the burden on states, advising: "...whether a state, local government, or employer, for example, may require or mandate COVID-19 vaccination is a matter of state or other applicable law."
Both chambers passed a second bill to stop Wisconsin health officials from mandating COVID-19 vaccination. Gov. Tony Evers has not said if he plans to sign it.
"I can assure you the state has no intention of mandating the vaccine," said Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk at a press briefing Monday, Dec. 14. "What private employers do will be up to each employer."
A spokesman said the Milwaukee Health Department "has never advanced any plan to mandate COVID vaccinations. That has always been seen as a personal choice."
The Wisconsin Nurses Association is opposed to the bill, saying "it does not assist health care employers in assuring the safety of nurses and their patients. We would like to see the use of the current statute that allows for medical reason, religious and personal conviction instead."
On the other side, supporting the bill to stop employers from mandating the vaccine are groups Wisconsin Family Action, Pro-Life Wisconsin and Vaccine Choice Wisconsin. The latter group's website says, "Our State. Our Rights. We have worked hard in Wisconsin to protect our right to choose what goes into our and our children’s bodies. But this battle is far from over. We MUST keep fighting for vaccine choice not only for our children, but for us as adults too."
The bill to stop employer COVID-19 vaccinations would still need to go to the Wisconsin Senate before it would head to the governor’s desk. The Senate is not back in session until the middle of April. Republican senators plan to talk about the bill in private meetings in the coming weeks.