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Processing Vaccination Accommodation Requests Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

How to process vaccination-related accommodation requests

From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist


The following is a sample process for determining whether a vaccination exception or delay must be granted as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA when employees are subject to a federal or state-imposed vaccination mandate or an employer policy. When an employee requests an accommodation and the disability and need for the accommodation are not obvious or already documented, the employer can require reasonable medical documentation. There is no required ADA medical documentation request form, but the Safer Federal Workforce provides a template for federal employers that can be modified by other employers as needed.

Is the employee unable to be vaccinated for COVID-19 because of a disability?

No: Deny the request under the ADA, apply other laws if appropriate, or follow usual policies.

Yes: Can the employee safely[1] work while unvaccinated in the current job and work environment?

Yes: Allow the vaccination exception or delay.

No: Can accommodations[2] be provided to eliminate or reduce exposure risk to an acceptable level, absent undue hardship[3]?

Yes: Grant the vaccination exception or delay and provide the accommodations.

No: Deny the request under the ADA, apply other laws if appropriate, or follow usual policies.

For more information, see FAQ: COVID-19 Vaccination and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Footnotes

1) Determining whether an employee can safely work while unvaccinated.

The following is from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” answer to question K.5:

To determine if an employee who is not vaccinated due to a disability poses a “direct threat” in the workplace, an employer first must make an individualized assessment of the employee’s present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job. The factors that make up this assessment are: (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; (3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and (4) the imminence of the potential harm. The determination that a particular employee poses a direct threat should be based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge about COVID-19. Such medical knowledge may include, for example, the level of community spread at the time of the assessment. Statements from the CDC provide an important source of current medical knowledge about COVID-19, and the employee’s health care provider, with the employee’s consent, also may provide useful information about the employee. Additionally, the assessment of direct threat should take account of the type of work environment, such as: whether the employee works alone or with others or works inside or outside; the available ventilation; the frequency and duration of direct interaction the employee typically will have with other employees and/or non-employees; the number of partially or fully vaccinated individuals already in the workplace; whether other employees are wearing masks or undergoing routine screening testing; and the space available for social distancing.

2) Accommodations to explore when an employee cannot be vaccinated but poses a direct threat in the current job and work environment.

The following is from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” answer to question K.5.

If the assessment demonstrates that an employee with a disability who is not vaccinated would pose a direct threat to self or others, the employer must consider whether providing a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship, would reduce or eliminate that threat. Potential reasonable accommodations could include requiring the employee to wear a mask, work a staggered shift, making changes in the work environment (such as improving ventilation systems or limiting contact with other employees and non-employees), permitting telework if feasible, or reassigning the employee to a vacant position in a different workspace.

Also see question K.2. in the same publication and “Accommodation Strategies for Returning to Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic”.

3) Factors for determining undue hardship related to vaccination exceptions and delays under the ADA.

The following is from “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” answer to question K.6.

The ADA requires that employers offer an available accommodation if one exists that does not pose an undue hardship, meaning a significant difficulty or expense. See 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(p). Employers are advised to consider all the options before denying an accommodation request. The proportion of employees in the workplace who already are partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the extent of employee contact with non-employees, who may be ineligible for a vaccination or whose vaccination status may be unknown, can impact the ADA undue hardship consideration. Employers may rely on CDC recommendations when deciding whether an effective accommodation is available that would not pose an undue hardship.

Person receiving a vaccine