OPB Quotes Karen O’Connor on Question of Whether Oregon Employers can Require Workers to be Vaccinated Against COVID-19

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Labor and employment partner Karen O’Connor was quoted by OPB in an article titled “Can Oregon employers require COVID-19 vaccination? It’s complicated,” published February 2, 2021. The article discusses whether Oregon employers could provide an incentive for workers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or if they could mandate that workers be vaccinated and, if so, who would be exempt.

Oregon is an at-will employment state, meaning private sector employers without unionized workers can set their employees’ terms and conditions of employment. According to O’Connor, “If one of those conditions is that the employee has to be vaccinated, then the employer can impose that.”

Currently available COVID-19 vaccines have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which means before people get vaccinated, they are supposed to be made aware they can refuse the injection. Debate has ensued in the legal community over whether employees who were required by their employers to be vaccinated but declined and subsequently were fired could claim they had been wrongfully terminated, in violation of public policy.

For her part, O’Connor counsels patience. “As soon as employers start saying you have to do it, people retreat to their corners,” she said. “If we can all just wait for it to be available and then as many of us as can go get it, get it and then we see what that means — that may be enough.”

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