NJ Greenlights Mandatory Workplace COVID-19 Vaccine Policies, with Exceptions

On March 19, 2021, the State of New Jersey added a new section to its online COVID-19 Information Hub clarifying that employers may require their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be allowed to enter the workplace.  This guidance also provides certain important exceptions that closely track similar guidance issued by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2020.

Under this New Jersey guidance, an employer may be permitted to require an employee receive the COVID-19 vaccine to return to the workplace, unless the employee cannot get the vaccine because of a disability, because their doctor has advised them not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding, or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.  In such circumstance, an employer must provide the employee a reasonable accommodation from its mandatory vaccine policy, unless doing so would impose an undue burden on company operations.  However, if there is no reasonable accommodation that an employer can provide that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to employees and customers, then the employer can enforce its policy of excluding unvaccinated employees from the physical workplace, even if the employee is unvaccinated because of a disability, pregnancy, is breastfeeding, or has a sincerely held religious belief.

In the case of disability and pregnancy related accommodations from a mandatory vaccine policy, employers will be allowed under New Jersey law to require employees to supply confirming medical documentation supporting their need for an accommodation.  All such documentation must be kept confidential by employers.

The New Jersey guidance further explains that in the case of a religious accommodation from a mandatory vaccine rule, employer generally may not question the sincerity of an employee’s religious beliefs, practices, or observance unless the employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance.  In that case, the employer may make a limited inquiry into the facts and circumstance supporting the employee’s request for a religious accommodation.

Furthermore, a reasonable accommodation under this New Jersey COVID-19 vaccination guidance may include such things as allowing the employee to continue to work remotely, or otherwise to work in a manner that would reduce or eliminate the risk of harm to other employees or the public.  A reasonable accommodation may also include providing the employee with personal protective equipment that sufficiently mitigates the employee’s risk of COVID-19 transmission and exposure.