Returning to Office After Pandemic Sparks Questions Over Legal Rights, Loopholes

NBC Universal, Inc.

You’ve heard of no shoes, no shirt, no service -- now some businesses are saying, "No vaccine? No salary."

Tricky legal questions are being raised about employer and employee rights in the workplace as more people head back into the office. Managing that transition is proving to be a delicate dance as employers try to balance safety and privacy while employees fight for fairness.

Legal analyst Wendy Lynn Patrick told NBC 7 that some employers are rewriting their back-to-work policies, with some requiring vaccinations for staff. Patrick said, however, that there are exceptions for those with underlying medical conditions or religious objections.

“Employers have to be very careful in toeing the line that whatever decisions they make to promote a safe workplace don't infringe on anybody's rights,” Patrick said.

Patrick added that employers must try to compromise if there's a conflict between what the employee wants and what the company expects.

“They don't jump straight to firing somebody for not getting the shot,” Patrick said. “They have to work with that employee to see if there's any way in which that that can be accommodated rather than simply terminated.”

Employers are within their right to ask whether an employee has been vaccinated -- but the discussion has to end there. Any follow-up questions about medical conditions or symptoms would violate HIPAA, Patrick said.

“This is actually something that's already the subject of litigation … we're going to see lots of lawsuits, because sometimes litigation leads to legislation, and that legislation is important enough to many Americans that it may find its way right up to the Supreme Court,” Patrick said.

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