Weeks after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) weighed in, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) recently released updated COVID-19 employment FAQs addressing the permissibility of employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccination policies.

Taking a page from the EEOC’s January 2021 guidance, the DFEH indicated that employers may require employees to receive an FDA emergency use authorized COVID-19 vaccine so long as the employer does not discriminate against or harass employees or job applicants on the basis of a protected characteristic and provides reasonable accommodations related to disability and/or sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Per the DFEH’s guidance, if an employer mandates vaccinations in the workplace and an employee objects on the basis of a disability, the employer must engage in an interactive process with, and reasonably accommodate, the employee with a disability-related reason for not being vaccinated—unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship to the employer, the employee cannot perform the essential job duties even with a reasonable accommodation, or the employee cannot perform the job duties without endangering the employee’s or others’ health and safety.  Similarly, employees who decline to obtain a vaccination on the basis of religious beliefs or practices must be provided with a reasonable accommodation, unless it would pose an undue hardship to the employer.

And, what about employees who merely don’t trust the vaccine?  The DFEH’s new guidance indicates there is no obligation to reasonably accommodate employees whose opposition to being vaccinated is not related to a disability or religious beliefs.

But, how can employers ensure that employees are, in fact, vaccinated?  The DFEH’s guidance indicates that employers may require employees to furnish “proof” that they have been vaccinated as part of the vaccine requirement—because this is not a disability- or religious creed-related inquiry or medical examination.  However, the DFEH’s FAQs caution employers to instruct employees to omit any protected medical information from their documentation prior to submission.  Further, once collected, the DFEH indicated that employers must maintain records of employee or applicant vaccination as confidential medical records.

As vaccines have become more accessible, much of the initial insecurity surrounding them has given way.  One indicator of this shift is the decrease in vaccines wasted over time.  In January, when the vaccine faced more skepticism, states rarely used over 60 percent of their available doses.  Now, states report using 80-90% of their daily vaccines and California is vaccinating over 350,000 people per day.  Employers looking to implement a mandatory vaccine policy may seek to capitalize on this positive momentum as we return to the workplace and even a semblance of normalcy.

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Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including…

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Tony is recognized as a leading lawyer by such highly respected publications and organizations as the Los Angeles Daily JournalThe Hollywood Reporter, and Chambers USA, which gives him the highest possible rating (“Band 1”) for Labor & Employment.  According to Chambers USA, clients say Tony is “brilliant at what he does… He is even keeled, has a high emotional IQ, is a great legal writer and orator, and never gives up.” Other clients report:  “Tony has an outstanding reputation” and he is “smart, cost effective and appropriately aggressive.” Tony is hailed as “outstanding,” particularly for his “ability to merge top-shelf lawyerly advice with pragmatic business acumen.” He is highly respected in the industry, with other commentators lauding him as a “phenomenal strategist” and “one of the top employment litigators in the country.”

“Tony is the author of the treatise titled Employment Discrimination Depositions (Juris Pub’g 2020; www.jurispub.com), co-author of Proskauer on Privacy (PLI 2020), and, since 1990, has been a regular columnist for the official publication of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Tony has been a featured guest on Fox 11 News and CBS News in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading national media outlets such as The National Law JournalBloomberg News, The New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. Tony is a frequent speaker on employment law topics for large and small groups of employers and their counsel, including the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), PIHRA, the National CLE Conference, National Business Institute, the Employment Round Table of Southern California (Board Member), the Council on Education in Management, the Institute for Corporate Counsel, the State Bar of California, the California Continuing Education of the Bar Program and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills Bar Associations. He has testified as an expert witness regarding wage and hour issues as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and has served as a faculty member of the National Employment Law Institute. He has served as an arbitrator in an employment discrimination matter.

Tony is an appointed Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission Board of Rights and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law and a guest lecturer at USC Law School and a guest lecturer at UCLA Law School.

Photo of Philippe A. Lebel Philippe A. Lebel

Philippe (Phil) A. Lebel represents employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including wage and hour, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, defamation, trade secrets, and breach of contract litigation, in both the single-plaintiff and class- and/or representative-action context, at both the trial and…

Philippe (Phil) A. Lebel represents employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including wage and hour, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, defamation, trade secrets, and breach of contract litigation, in both the single-plaintiff and class- and/or representative-action context, at both the trial and appellate level, and before administrative agencies.

In addition to his litigation work, Phil regularly advises clients regarding compliance with federal, state and local employment laws, and assists a variety of companies and financial firms in evaluating labor and employment issues in connection with corporate transactions. Phil also has experience assisting employers with sensitive employee investigations and trainings.  Phil also represents employers in connection with labor law matters, such as labor arbitrations and proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board.

Phil has assisted clients in a wide array of sectors including in the biotech, education, entertainment, financial services, fitness, healthcare, high-tech, legal services, manufacturing, media, professional services, sports, and staffing industries, among others.

Phil regularly speaks on emerging issues for employers and has been published or quoted in Law360, the Daily JournalThe Hollywood ReporterBusiness Insurance, and SHRM.org regarding a variety of labor and employment law topics.

During college, Phil worked on political campaigns in Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama, and was an intern with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Phil is a former member of the Board of Directors of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.