ORLANDO, Fla. — As all adults in Florida become eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, can employers make the vaccine mandatory? 

What You Need To Know

  • EEOC confirmed that employers could legally require employees to get vaccinated

  • FAMU professor says employers give workers an incentive to getting the shot

  • Some Central Florida employee are happy to be paid to get the shot

As businesses look to return staff to offices and workspaces, Spectrum News 13 explored employer and employee rights.

A professor at Florida A&M University Seema Mohapatra says companies can make getting the vaccine mandatory. 

“The law allows employers to impose requirements to make sure employees don’t pose threats to the health and safety of the workplace, and COVID-19 infection is considered a direct threat to the workplace,” she said. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently clarified the law and confirmed that employers could legally require it, even though the vaccine has only gotten an emergency use authorization and not full approval by the FDA. 

“This is the first time that an emergency use authorization has been granted to a new vaccine so we are in uncharted territory here,” Mohapatra said. 

But even though employers can legally require it, very few, if any, are actually doing so. 

Mohapatra says the two exceptions to mandatory vaccines are religious beliefs and disabilities that make getting the vaccine dangerous for the employee. 

Employers would have to make reasonable accommodations for employees in these categories or face potential lawsuits. 

This is why she says most are opting to just incentivize.  

“They don’t … want to have this, have the pushback and the potential for it to be tied up in litigation,” she said. 

With many of Central Florida’s jobs focused in the hospitality and service industry, Mohapatra says many employees are hourly and do not get sick leave. 

So to get as many people vaccinated as possible, she says it is going to take employers making it easy to get the shot. 

“So providing those kind of benefits that help employees in making sure that they can be safe themselves and keep others safe, their other employees and other customers, is vitally important,” Mohapatra said. 

Major companies like Dollar General and Trader Joe’s say they will pay employees to get it. 

Thousands of workers across the country, and right here in Central Florida, are getting incentives to get the vaccine because they work in an industry that requires person-to-person contact. 

Chinleay Previlus washes dishes at Too Much Sauce in Orlando. 

His boss, Evan Dimov, is offering to pay up to four hours to get vaccinated, which he says helped sway his decision. 

“At first I was very, iffy about it. But the moment they did mention the money and stuff, it would help! It would motivate me to get it done,” Previlus said. 

He says during this time, any opportunity to make money is worth it. 

“Especially with the pandemic and hours have been getting cut off and stuff so it does help yeah,” Previlus said. 

His coworker, Becs Elias, works at the front of the restaurant and interacts with customers more often. 

She is eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine because of her parents’ health concerns. 

“They’re older and one of them is immunocompromised,” she said. 

She says knowing she has the freedom to not miss out on working hours to get it means a lot. 

“I’m really grateful Evan offered us that, and I know right now I’m not the first priority for getting vaccinated but the second it opens up, I can go do that, and I’m so glad I can,” Elias said. 

“It takes an entire burden off. I can’t be thankful enough because I know other jobs wouldn’t do the same,” Elias continued.