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Companies can mandate COVID-19 vaccine, but few choosing to do so

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As masks come off, will more employers mandate the COVID-19 vaccine? It’s legal for companies to do so, but the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill prohibiting more public entities from doing it.

Businesses have a lot to weigh when making the decision whether to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or not from the health of employees, to public opinion. One Memphis labor lawyer says whatever they decide it’s their right as business owners.

“There’s nothing illegal from a company requiring its employees to receive the vaccine- any vaccine,” Alan Crone with Crone Law Firm said.

Crone works with business owners and employees. He said his clients are part of the ongoing discussion on if businesses should require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s a new concept to think about as universal COVID-19 vaccine access has only been around for a little over a month.

“Before in February and March the availability of vaccines was very limited,” Crone said. “So it was impractical to have a wide sort of requirement.”

Instead, Crone has seen more businesses consider incentives for the vaccine, which Shelby County leaders are encouraging.

“We encourage Mid-South employers to consider what incentives they an offer their employees to get the vaccine,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said.

At Tuesday’s Memphis Shelby County Joint COIVD-19 Task Force breifing, Harris said he may consider incentives to Shelby County Government employees who get the vaccine. A law passed this year at the Tennessee Statehouse prohibits government authorities and other public organizations from mandating the vaccine including in schools.

It’s now awaiting Governor Bill Lee’s signature.

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld expects to see more businesses mandate the vaccine once it gets full FDA approval which Pfizer is currently seeking.

“I think we’ll see that FDA approval in a reasonable amount of time,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “Once that happens it’s just a lot easier to insist someone get the vaccine. We see it in businesses all the time with the flu vaccine.”

Crone said many business owners will avoid the line in the sand that could force valued employees to leave.

“It becomes a line in the sand and you better be prepared to fire everyone who refuses and not just cherry pick,” Crone said.

Crone said there are legal disability and religious exemptions that could allow you to avoid getting a mandated vaccine.

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