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President Biden Asks Employers To Require COVID-19 Vaccination; Some Minnesota Businesses Already Doing It

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- President Joe Biden urged employers and state and local leaders across the country to require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers, after the Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for adults 16 and older.

"If you're a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local leader who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do it, require it," Biden said.

Federal workers at the direction of the Biden administration must prove they are vaccinated or face weekly testing requirements. The Defense Department quickly moved to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for U.S. service members following the decision from federal regulators.

In Minnesota, the FDA's full approval triggered the University of Minnesota's vaccine mandate for its students. Hark! Cafe on Tuesday will begin requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to dine inside its restaurant in Minneapolis, the first business in the city to take that step.

And state agency employees need to be vaccinated or get tested regularly, Gov. Tim Walz recently announced. Other employers like Mayo Clinic are also requiring vaccination.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (credit: CBS)

All of these mandates are legal with some narrow exceptions, said Jill Hasday, professor at the University of Minnesota Law School whose expertise include constitutional and anti-discrimination law.

"One of the core functions of government is to promote public safety, and under that sort of reasoning, previous vaccine mandates have been upheld," Hasday said.

More businesses could follow in a "wave" of vaccination requirements, as Biden implores employers to do. There can be very narrow religious exemptions and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, like if getting the vaccine is dangerous for someone with a certain medical condition. In this case, the employer would have to offer a reasonable accommodation.

But in general "the law is on their side," Hasday says, unless there is a specific law barring such mandates.

Guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that federal equal employment opportunity laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, with similar reasonable accommodation provisions. A memorandum from the Justice Department similarly concluded that mandates don't violate federal law, including requiring vaccinations under emergency use authorization.

Four states have laws that impact private employers and their ability to require vaccination of employees or of customers, according to a list compiled by the National Academy for State and Health Policy.

Some variation of vaccine "passports" are forbidden in 21 states. Minnesota doesn't have any laws like this.

"I think the case that employers and restaurants can require vaccine mandates is even stronger when it's already fully approved," Hasday said. "With permanent approval, it's more like every other vaccine and there's a long history of requiring vaccinations."

As of August 7, companies requiring vaccinations has increased by 90% over the previous month, according to data tracked by Indeed, a website that posts job listings.

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