May 07, 2021

Susan Kline Discusses Proposed Bills Outlawing Harassment Based on Vaccination Status With Law360

In the Law360 article “State Bans On Vaccine Status Bias Shake Up Employer Plans,” labor and employment partner Susan Kline shares employer considerations in light of bills that would outlaw workplace discrimination against employees who choose not to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Kline described how she has heard from several clients encountering employee concerns about working alongside unvaccinated colleagues. Some people are saying, “‘If I have to come back, I want to work only with people who are vaccinated, at least if they can be,’” Kline said. “I’ve even heard to the extent that people are strongly objecting to working with someone who isn’t vaccinated and could be.”

Employers fielding these requests should be ready to investigate them, understand what’s behind the employee’s hesitance and work to address their concerns, Kline said. She also pointed out that unvaccinated workers are actually least protected from COVID-19 in the workplace.

“I’m hearing that people don’t want to come back to work until everyone is vaccinated, as a general principle, but the folks who are vaccinated are the ones who should feel safest,” Kline explained. “If there’s risk, it’s risk to the unvaccinated folks,” she added.

Kline said offering to maintain other protections — like mask policies, social distancing and increased hygiene protocols — may go a long way in alleviating some worker unease if everybody must be brought back at the same time.

Kline also detailed how employers can combat workplace harassment. Mistreatment can manifest when a team member is coerced into sharing that they haven’t been vaccinated, so she said it’s a good idea to proactively set policies regarding vaccine conversations. Kline further noted that company leaders need to make clear that grilling coworkers about why they may not have been vaccinated is not okay.

“Employers should get out in front of this and say, ‘We not only as a cultural matter don’t allow bullying and shaming and interrogating people about personal choices, but this actually is a legal requirement, and you just can’t do it at work,’” Kline stated.

The full article is available for Law360 subscribers.

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