Employers can require and incentivize vaccinations

Chamber Corner

As local employers continue to work to build up their workforce and bring employees back into a variety of workplaces, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stepped in to provide some additional guidance to make all workplaces safer. The EEOC now says that employers are allowed to require that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, and they can also provide incentives to employees who get the shots. But there are some caveats.

The new EEOC language allows employers to require the vaccine, and to provide incentives – including cash incentives — but they must also provide reasonable accommodation for employees who are exempt from mandatory immunization under the Americans with Disabilities Act including specific medical reasons. Employees who continue to work from home and not in an office setting cannot be mandated to get vaccinated.

In addition, the EEOC says employer-offered incentives must not be “coercive,” but they did not provide guidance around what would be considered coercive. It is clear that incentives must be applied equally across the board to all employees taking part. So, whether an employee gets vaccinated at a private pharmacy or at a clinic run on the job site they must still be eligible for the incentive – whether it is additional time off or a bonus payment.

The EEOC issuance reminds employers that if they are offering on-site vaccinations, they must keep employee’s personal medical information obtained during pre-shot screenings confidential. One of the best ways to manage that is to have a third party administer the program, such as a pharmacy or healthcare provider.

Vaccine requirements for workers have been, in part, driven by the Centers for Disease Control new guidance that says vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask in indoor or outdoor settings. For the workplace that becomes a tricky issue. New York State has been careful to state that employers still have the discretion to require masks for all employees or customers if they choose not to inquire about vaccination status.

With some large entertainment venues, and even some businesses, requesting proof of vaccination from customers, this is also a good time to clarify that asking for a vaccination status does not violate the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act. HIPPA language is very specific to healthcare providers such as doctors’ offices or hospitals – which may not disclose medical information to anyone other than the patient or their designated representative.

The New York State Excelsior Pass is designed to provide proof of vaccination without providing a direct view of personal health records. All of these options are now available to each individual business as they determine how best to handle their own staff and customers. It is clear that vaccinations have moved us to a point where the restrictions for businesses have been loosened, and where those who are vaccinated feel safer in public settings.

The Chamber of Commerce and MAST continue to urge all local residents to get vaccinated. The pandemic is not gone. COVID-19 continues to flourish and to create variants where it finds unvaccinated hosts – creating versions of the virus that spread more rapidly and can cause even more severe illness. Getting vaccinated will keep you, your family, and your community healthy and safe. At 95% efficacy, the vaccine is extraordinarily effective at protecting you from the virus. By getting vaccinated, you can end the damage to the economy, prevent more illnesses and deaths in America, and eliminate and eradicate COVID-19. The vaccines have been thoroughly tested and now everyone aged 12 and over is eligible to take the vaccine.

To find a provider convenient to you, check out the Chautauqua County Health Department website, or visit vaccinehound.org/Chautauqua or The Chautauqua Center website at tcchealth.org.


The Hanover, Dunkirk, and Fredonia Community Chambers of Commerce are excited to jointly host the return of Business After Hours! This will be the first such event since February of 2020 and the three Community Chambers have come together to celebrate the start of summer and a return to in-person networking events. This special event is being held at the Sunset Bay Beach Club, next to Cabana Sam’s on June 17. It will be an outdoor beach party from 5-7:30 p.m. and will include live music, food, beverages, and an evening among friends reconnecting. Chamber member businesses get two free registrations per business. The cost to bring additional staff (above the two comps) or for non-members is $15 per person. Each registrant gets a ticket for one free drink. Wear a mask, follow the rules for the venue, and join in the fun for this beach party event. You can sign up now on the Chamber’s web calendar at www.chautauquachamber.org.


In our continuing series of Tuesday Talks events the Chamber and MAST are pleased to present a timely topic that will benefit all local businesses: workforce needs and workforce development. We recognize that it has been challenging for some employers to fill vacancies recently across a variety of work environments, and that there may be numerous reasons for those challenges. Join us for a panel discussion around this issue at 8:30am, Tuesday, June 22. Among our guest presenters will be Katie Geise, Executive Director of the Chautauqua Workforce Investment Board, and others. Our goal is to leave businesses not just with a better picture of the situation, but with some tips to help them move forward. This will be an online event. Registration is open now on our web calendar at www.chautauquachamber.org.


The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and the office of Congressman Tom Reed have worked to reschedule the annual Chamber Congressional Luncheon that was postponed earlier this year. The new date is July 15. The Chamber is working to schedule this as a hybrid event so that those who choose to attend in person may do so and those who choose to participate online will have that option as well. Watch for further details to be announced as we plan for this event.


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