[Lexi Lepof | WOUB]

Bill Would Prevent Ohio Employers From Requiring Vaccinations

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Many businesses are hiring as pandemic restrictions are lifted, and some, such as Bagel Street Deli in Athens, are requiring that employees have the COVID-19 vaccine. This has many people asking: Is this even legal?

The short answer is yes.

Bagel Street Deli sign with the covid-19 vaccination requirement for employment
The sign displayed in front of Bagel Street Deli that lists COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement of employment.

“Right now, both on the federal and state level, there are no prohibitions against employers requiring employees to actually be vaccinated as a condition of continuing to work for that particular employer,” Marc Fishel, an attorney with Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff in Columbus, said.

Although requiring vaccines is legal, there are a few exceptions that business owners must keep in mind.

“If they’d like, they can require employees to be vaccinated as long as they provide those employees with reasonable accommodations for any disability they may have or if they hold a sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from being vaccinated,” Federico Barrea, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Cleveland, said.

Barrea said that these exceptions come from the American With Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Bagel Street Deli Co-Owner Megan Meyer said requiring COVID-19 vaccinations is in the best interest of her customers and the overall health of the Athens County community.

However, a bill moving through the state Legislature would prevent employers like Meyer from making this decision.

“(The bill) prohibits an employer from asking questions about vaccination status, from tracking vaccination status, and from requiring employees to be vaccinated … so it would prohibit employers from treating those employees differently because they’ve chosen not to be vaccinated,” Barrea said.

The bill, HB 248, has sparked large debate with hundreds of Ohioans testifying for and against it.

A big concern opponents of the bill have is that it would not only prohibit employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, but any vaccine.

“If this comes to fruition, we will see a resurgence of things like polio, measles, whooping cough and that would be catastrophic for all Ohioans, especially those with weakened immune systems,” Dr. Joe Gastaldo, system medical director of infectious disease for Ohio Health, said.

Gastaldo said he believes that people do not realize the serious risk of these diseases because we have not seen them in many years because of vaccines.

“To not have vaccines would take us back, to some extent, to the 1850s with many types of diseases and infections that we don’t see anymore,” Gastaldo said.

On the opposite side are those who feel it is unethical to not give people the choice to get a vaccine and that it is a violation of privacy to require vaccine passports.

“The unethical part is to just say, you have to do this, we’re gonna pay you a lot or if you don’t do this you can’t travel, you can’t have a job, you know that’s coercive,” Dr. Daniel Weiss, a physician nutrition specialist, said.

In addition to the coercion, Weiss said he believes it’s important for people to know all of the facts in order to make an informed decision on the vaccines themselves.

“People have to know the pros and cons, risks and benefits, with full disclosure,” he said.

The bill had its fifth hearing before the House Health Committee on Tuesday but ended without a vote being taken.

The office of Gov. Mike Dewine said that he opposes the bill.