The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recently filed temporary regulations requiring workers in health care and school settings to obtain COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccinations by October 18, 2021, or else provide documentation of an exemption due to disability or religion. We previously reported that Governor Kate Brown had announced that these workers would have to be fully vaccinated.
The regulation on Vaccination Requirements to Control COVID-19 for Healthcare Providers and Healthcare Staff is effective from August 25, 2021, through January 31, 2022. The rule covers anyone working in a health care setting (which is broadly defined) who has the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients, residents, or infectious materials. It requires those individuals to be vaccinated by October 18, 2021, unless they provide documentation of a medical or religious exception. Note: We previously mentioned Oregon’s state statute that prohibits health care employers from imposing vaccination requirements on their workers (see ORS 433.416(3) and ORS 433.407(3)). However, that statute goes on to say that the prohibition doesn’t apply if “immunization is otherwise required by federal or state law, rule or regulation.” OHA’s new regulation fits the bill.
The regulation on Vaccination Requirements to Control COVID-19 for Schools and School-based Programs is effective from August 25, 2021, through February 20, 2022. This rule applies to “a public, private, parochial, charter or alternative educational program offering kindergarten through grade 12 or any part thereof” but doesn’t include a “stand-alone preschool program that goes up through kindergarten.” It requires teachers, school staff, and volunteers to be vaccinated or provide documentation of a medical or religious exception.
Both rules require employees to substantiate any requests for a medical or religious exemption using a form prescribed by OHA to their employer. And both rules require that in granting any exceptions, the employer must take reasonable steps to ensure that the unvaccinated worker is protected from contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to other people. Oregon's COVID-19 Vaccine web page contains the medical and religious exemption forms and accompanying instructions, as well as FAQs for both healthcare providers and schools.
Tips: The regulations don’t provide specific guidance on protection measures to address the presence of unvaccinated staff. However, the normal process for evaluating disability accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and evaluating religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and state law still apply. You aren’t required to accommodate an employee if doing so would pose a direct threat to health and safety or create an undue hardship to the business. When an employee requests a religious exemption form, consider providing a copy of the OHA’s “Vaccine Facts” for Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu faith communities. You should evaluate suggestions from management, ask the employee for ideas, and (for medical exemptions) involve the employee’s health care provider. Document what you considered and your assessment of each option. For example, implementing a full-blown respiratory protection program might be one possible way to protect individuals’ health and safety in the workplace, but depending on the work environment it might be impractical to do so. Contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney for assistance with evaluating exemption requests and contact your Vigilant safety professional with any questions about respiratory protection programs.