NewsPinellas County


Will Florida employers require the COVID-19 vaccine to return to work?

Posted at 4:41 PM, Dec 09, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — We’re getting closer to mass vaccinations to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many people wonder if employers will require vaccinations before allowing employees to return to the office.

ABC Action News spoke with two local attorneys who specialize in employment law. Brian Calciano of the Law Office of Calciano and Pierro in St. Petersburg and Robert Shimberg of Hill Ward Henderson Law Firm in Tampa says the short answer is yes, your boss can require the vaccine. However, it’s a complicated situation.

“It’s something that everybody is navigating through for the first time in our lifetimes,” Shimberg explained.

Both attorneys say employers would have to allow health and religious exemptions, they’d also have to consider the availability of the vaccine and would likely have to accommodate requests to work from home, instead.

“I don’t think most employers are going to be able to do that across the board without exposing themselves to some significant legal risks,” Calciano warned.

Both attorneys recommend employers consider the type of job before making a blanket policy. For example, nurses and doctors are at a much higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 than people who work in a small real estate office or work in telesales.

Calciano says many employers are hoping for better guidance from the federal government, as well.

“I would love to see Congress step up and give clear expectations for everyone because if there’s one theme I’ve seen in 2020 it’s confusion,” he added.

It comes as Florida Department of Health leaders look into plans to help distribute the vaccine community-wide. One option is to use outdoor drive-up sites to distribute thousands of vaccines, similar to those already in operation for COVID-19 testing at Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium.

Tom Iovino at the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County says they’re already using a similar concept for flu shots. Iovino says a drive-up system could be a seamless way to roll out vaccinations once they become available at a community-wide level.

“This is going to be a major step in helping develop that immunity throughout the community,” Iovino explained.

Of course, there are still logistics to work out including how the vaccines will be stored at the appropriate temperature. One option the Florida Department of Health is considering is the use of dry ice at vaccination sites.

Right now, Florida is receiving millions of syringes, gloves and other equipment to prepare for the first round of vaccines to be distributed, starting with healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities.