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Will businesses mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees?

Some businesses are drawing a line, while others are waiting for more legal precedents. Our 9NEWS legal analyst predicts courts will hear cases soon.

COLORADO, USA — As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available in Colorado and the United States, businesses decide whether to require that employees become vaccinated, despite little to no legal precedent.

Bar Max on Colfax has drawn a line for both customers and employees: Everyone must be vaccinated unless they have a religious or medical opposition.

“Our approach to everything with COVID has been to put public safety first,” owner Marshall Smith said. “I don’t have concern [about legal action], but I guess if that’s what has to happen, that would be what would have to happen.”

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Other businesses, like Denver-based manufacturer Gates Corporation, are waiting for more precedents and guidance.

“Right now, we’re strongly encouraging employees,” Chief Marketing Officer Tom Pitstick said. “Make it easy, show the data, share the science the best we can, and hope people make a decision we would like them to make.”

Gates has set up vaccine clinics for its employees and is in constant conversation about whether it will eventually mandate that staff become vaccinated.

“We continue to evaluate the precedents, [and] we continue to evaluate the general sentiment among our employees,” Pitstick said. He went on to explain that most employees have expressed excitement over getting their shots.

9NEWS Legal Analyst Whitney Traylor predicts we will see a precedent from courts sometime soon.

“What I suspect is that there will be some employers who ultimately draw a line in the sand and say, ‘you either get vaccinated, or you will be terminated.’ Then an employee will file suit, and then we’ll get some direction from the courts on what employers can or can’t do,” Traylor said.

For now, Traylor believes employers most likely could mandate a vaccine, so long as they are honoring religious or medical exemptions, and especially if it can be proven that an unvaccinated employee poses a danger to the public, per the most recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not fully approved any of the current COVID-19 vaccines, which are being distributed under an Emergency Use Authorization.

“The employee has a much stronger argument when he or she says, ‘look, I don’t know what this vaccine may do. We haven’t tested it for years and years and years, so I’m not comfortable,’” Traylor said.

A nurse in Houston told KHOU that she would be making that argument in court after her employer, Houston Methodist, became the first hospital to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations.

Traylor predicts the outcome of that potential case may set a precedent for hospitals, but it may not apply to other types of businesses.

Currently, no Colorado hospitals are requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Colorado State University system, the University of Colorado system, The University of Northern Colorado, and Metropolitan State University of Denver will require students and staff to be vaccinated.

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