Masked and vaccinated? Kennewick lawyer explains business legalities

KENNEWICK, Wash. – Now that the CDC has eased mask guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated, a lot of questions have arose surrounding the legalities of asking someone their vaccine status.

Kennewick Lawyer George Cicotte frequently represents big name companies, sorts through employee benefits and other labor related matters including HIPAA laws.

He said during the pandemic, there’s been some legal grey area for businesses when it comes to vaccine requirements.

“If this were a typical vaccine, the legal analysis would be quite settled: yes, employers can require their employees to be vaccinated subject to a couple of exceptions,” he explained.

Cicotte said under the Emergency Use Authorization, which all of the COVID-19 vaccines have been given by the FDA, technically, an employer can’t require vaccination.

“Because it’s experimental, because our government is generally not in the process of forcing people or allowing people to be forced to take experimental treatments,” George said.

But, they can ask if you’ve gotten the shot.

“You know, to be good corporate citizens, good employers, trying to do the things that are right, they have a rational basis for wanted to know whether you’ve been vaccinated or not,” he added.

That way, a business could ask you to mask up or not.

Since COVID-19 is a public health concern though, Cicotte believes that’s why many businesses have been incentivizing getting the vaccine.

So, what about masking up? With masks tied directly to vaccine status, can businesses still require the protection?

“Yes, they can. So stores definitely have the ability to require masks; has to be applied in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. It’s their store, it’s their private property,” he said.

Many businesses are still requiring the mask mandate regardless of vaccine status, because checking vaccine cards, could become problematic.

“It’s pretty easy for an employer to ask their employees if they’ve been vaccinated because you’ve got that relationship but to ask your consumers, your business clients, that’s sort of a – a next step.
How are they gonna cross check your vaccine card against your drivers license? Come on, like that all just starts getting pretty intrusive in a way that I think most Americans are not super
comfortable with,” Cicotte said.

Some businesses have eased their mask mandate, like Walmart and Costco, while others, like Fred Meyer, are keeping it in place until further notice.

Need to get vaccinated? KAPP KVEW has the resources.