Long-term care providers can require staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, according to new guidance released late last week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

The agency explained that federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees that physically enter the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19 — with exemptions for medical or religious accommodations. The updated guidance also states that employers may offer incentives to staff who choose to get vaccinated.  

The guidance comes as several long-term care providers have joined a growing industry trend to mandate employee COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment. 

Ethical and legal debates regarding vaccine mandates have also swirled around the long-term care industry due to the fact that the current COVID vaccines are still under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. It still remains unclear about where mandatory vaccination policies fall if the approval is under an EUA based on Friday’s guidance.

The document noted that it’s “beyond the EEOC’s jurisdiction to discuss the legal implications of EUA or the FDA approach.” The agency directed people to the FDA’s EUA site for more information about the legal implications of EUA or the FDA approach to vaccines.

Friday’s guidance does serve as a confirmation that federal law permits an employer to require its on-site employees to obtain one of the three vaccinations available through Emergency Use Authorization, explained Megan R. Heiden, a shareholder with the business law firm Smith Hulsey & Busey in Jacksonville, FL.  

“Requiring all employees to undergo vaccination may provide peace of mind for long-term care facilities, their residents, and residents’ families and, if such policies become standard across the industry, may create a new standard of care,” Heiden, who’s also a member of the firm’s healthcare, labor and employment practice, said in a statement to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Tuesday. 

“However, employers should take care to implement mandatory vaccination policies carefully to avoid violating state laws on COVID-19 vaccination, as well as state and federal anti-discrimination laws,” she added.