Are mandatory COVID vaccines legal? More than 200 US meat plant worker die

By September 30, 2020 No Comments

Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination: Is it legal and is it right for your workplace?

Employers may implement mandatory vaccination programs, subject to limited exemptions. 

According to the World Health Organization, as of August 25, 2020, 173 potential vaccines are currently being developed in labs across the world, 31 of which have advanced to clinical stage testing on humans. Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year or early 2021.

Employers are beginning to ask the question: “Can we require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19?’  In general, the answer is yes, according to the National Law Report.

Employers may implement mandatory vaccination programs, subject to limited exemptions. Mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are not new, and are particularly prevalent among healthcare providers. For the most part, mandatory programs are permissible, as long as employers consider religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and medical accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

More than 200 meat plant workers in the U.S. have died of covid-19 

Federal regulators just issued two modest fines.

Federal regulators knew about serious safety problems in dozens of the nation’s meat plants that became deadly coronavirus hot spots this spring but took six months to take action, recently citing two plants and finally requiring changes to protect workers, according to The Washington Post.

The financial penalties for a Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota and a JBS plant in Colorado issued last week total about $29,000 — an amount critics said was so small that it would fail to serve as an incentive for the nation’s meatpackers to take social distancing and other measures to protect their employees.

At least 42,534 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in 494 meat plants, and at least 203 meatpacking workers have died since March, according to an analysis by the Food Environmental Reporting Network, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

At the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., 1,294 have tested positive for the coronavirus and four have died. At the JBS USA plant in Greeley, Colo., 290 have tested positive and six have died.

OSHA said the plants failed to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were working in close proximity to each other and were exposed to” the coronavirus.

In addition to improving distancing between employees, OSHA ordered the companies to erect barriers between the workers when that isn’t possible. With Smithfield, OSHA said the plant needed to adjust processing line speeds “to enable employees to stand farther apart.”

Of the nearly 10,000 virus-related requests OSHA received to investigate workplaces in all industries since early March, Smithfield and JBS are the only ones that have so far resulted in a citation and fine. Unrelated to the complaints, OSHA has issued six other virus-related citations and fines for industries other than the meat industry, which resulted from routine reports the agency received from hospitals and employers about workers being hospitalized or fatally injured, records show.

The North American Meat Institute criticized the “inconsistent and sometimes tardy government advice” in a statement and said the industry quickly took steps to protect workers when the virus hit in March. It also said confirmed coronavirus cases among plant workers have dropped significantly in recent months because of measures taken in the plants.

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