'It's a very divisive issue': Local employment attorney explains legality of workplace vaccine mandates
MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58)-- More workplaces are establishing COVID-19 vaccine mandates since the FDA fully approved Pfizer's vaccine on Monday, August 23.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced all non-union City of Milwaukee employees need to show proof of vaccination by Friday, October 29.
Effective September 1, COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for general City of Milwaukee employees.— Mayor Tom Barrett (@MayorOfMKE) August 24, 2021
We have an obligation to provide a safe workplace that protects all employees, their family members and interacting members of the public.
More here: https://t.co/mgL6ShjSeT pic.twitter.com/xGegnpTtoa
These vaccine mandates are legal, but Sarah Platt, an employment attorney at Ogletree Deakins, told CBS 58 there are still limited exceptions.
"Those concepts are not new, and the law around it isn't new," Platt said. "(Employers) need to consider requests for accommodation based on an employee's disability that may preclude them from getting vaccinated or based on sincerely held religious beliefs that may preclude vaccination."
Most workplaces, including the City of Milwaukee, is allowing people to apply for religious and medical exemptions. However, there's no guarantee a review board will accept it.
Barrett said the city has not yet determined what the approval process will look like.
"General opposition to vaccines, even questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine or the science behind the vaccine is not a basis for an exemption under the law," Platt said.
UW Health's Dr. Nasia Safdar told CBS 58 she sees only one medical reason to not get the vaccine.
"The only true medical contraindication to the vaccine is if you have an allergic reaction to any of the components to the vaccine," Safdar said.
Safdar said people should read through the ingredients of vaccines, and address concerns with their doctor.
Religious exemptions aren't as black and white. Workplaces are asking employees to show a clear connection between their belief and the justification to not get the vaccine.
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference recently issued a letter stating they encourage anyone who is eligible to get the vaccine to do so, adding, "We are morally responsible to protect our lives and the lives of others."
The letter was signed by the Archbishop of Milwaukee.
"I think there are people who will challenge it. It's a very divisive issue on our society right now," Platt said. "So, I expect there will be some of those challenges, which is why employers want to make sure they're getting it right."
Platt told CBS 58 that vaccine mandates were legal without full FDA approval, but many employers were waiting on it, knowing that it makes some people more comfortable with getting the shot.