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Should Healthcare Employers Ask About Vaccine Status During the Hiring Process?

There's no doubt that the COVID-19 vaccination has been a controversial topic for many. In the workplace — especially in a healthcare practice — vaccination status can play a critical role.


Non-vaccinated team members can be cause for concern in some healthcare practices. It can put team members, your and patients, at risk. 

Asking about vaccine status during recruitment can be a tough issue to navigate. You must respect the individual's medical privacy, and you also must be sure your new hire does not present a risk to your practice in any way. To be sure you are going about this the right way during the recruitment process, keep reading. Find out what you can and can't ask, and how to go about it while still respecting the individual and federal/state labor laws.

Why Ask About Vaccination Status?

Should Employers Ask About Vaccine Status During the Hiring Process?

Handling vaccine requirements should be done with care. Whether you are operating a dental practice, optometry clinic, pharmacy, or other healthcare practice, you may need to know whether or not your new hires are immunized.. However, asking about vaccine status must be done carefully. You must respect the candidate’s medical privacy and their right to choose to receive the vaccine or not. This is also important so that a practice can avoid a situation where a candidate shares legally protected information. You will also want to ensure that you communicate compliance around the interactive process for legal accommodation requests. This helps you avoid claims that you are illegally screening out candidates that would have been eligible to receive an accommodation.

Asking about vaccine status during recruitment can help determine where your new hire should work. However, you should take care to make you vaccination policy known and be sure to explain that you can offer reasonable accommodations for anyone who is unable to be vaccinated before your colicit a direct response from the candidate.  If you are already understaffed, you may not be able to afford to lose any team members to the COVID-19 infection. This is another reason why vaccination status matters to some practice owners.

In some states, vaccine passports are in effect for both team members and patients. If this is the case, you will need to know if a potential new hire is adequately immunized. Of course, you must still tread carefully when asking about vaccine status during hiring. 

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COVID-19 Employer Toolkit

COVID Toolkit 2022-1

Do You Have the Right to Ask New Hires About COVID-19 Vaccine Status?

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires that all employers provide a work environment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." In other words, yes you do have the right to ask about vaccine status, provided you do so carefully.  It should be made clear to the candidate if there is a reason why they are being asked. If you need to enforce a vaccine passport or have vulnerable patients, you should explain that — but that's where your line of questioning should end.

You should also learn about vaccine mandates in your area, in order to better understand whether you are required to ask about vaccine status during hiring.

How to Ask About Vaccination Status

If you decide you would like to inquire about vaccination status, you may want to consider waiting until you reach the latter part of the interview process. Your goal is to determine whether the candidate is adequately vaccinated. You do not have the right to ask them about their personal beliefs regarding the vaccine or their personal thoughts on COVID. The safest way to approach this is to explain to the candidate why vaccination status is relevant in your practice, what your policy is and finally ask the candidate if they are willing and able to comply with that policy. If you have a vaccination mandate in place, it helps protect you if you mention that you do abide by the provisions around legally protected reasonable accommodations for qualifying cases/employees. Should Employers Ask About Vaccine Status During the Hiring Process?

For example, if you are looking to fill a position for a team member who will be in direct contact with vulnerable patients, or if state law requires a vaccine passport, say so. This may lead the candidate to tell you whether they are vaccinated. If they are not vaccinated, try not probe any further as it can result in the employee inadvertently sharing protected health information.. They do not need to disclose what that reason is, as this is private information. When asking about vaccine status during hiring, remember to ask only if they are vaccinated, and not why or why not.

At this point, you can decide if there is a job a non-vaccinated person can do that doesn't put anyone at risk. If this is not the case, you can politely let them know that you are unable to move forward with their candidacy.

If you hire someone on the condition that they receive their vaccines, you must be sure to outline this in writing, and the offer letter is the perfect place to do that. Be sure to provide your new hire with all necessary documentation to ensure you are covered — especially if they do not live up to their end of the bargain.


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Can I Ask Employees to Get a COVID Vaccine?


Inform Yourself First

The best way to ensure you and your practice are protected is to get properly informed first. Schedule a call with an HR specialist to find out what federal and state laws dictate for your individual practice. You want to ensure that you do not infringe on the rights of your candidates. You want to know exactly what you can and can't say to avoid being sued or held liable for discrimination in the future. 

The labor laws can vary by state and by field, so it is essential to get informed before you inquire about vaccine status during hiring. HR is a vast subject, and you may not have the time or the means to navigate all the critical information you need. An HR specialist can help you navigate this sensitive topic area professionally and legally.

About HR for Health

Optimize your HR services with HR for Health. We can help you manage the daily HR challenges that may arise at your practice. This can allow you to focus on the health of your patients while we solidify your HR operations. In addition, an HR specialist can help you understand how to approach hiring and the interview process. We can help you with employment applications, provide interviewing resources, offer letter templates, and help you with the electronic onboarding process. 

When it comes to hiring and vetting new candidates, HR for Health can help. We can help ensure that you and your practice are legally protected while you try to navigate vaccination status among new potential hires.

If you're looking to hire new team members or manage the team you already have, HR for Health can help. Schedule a call with an HR specialist today to discover how our services can streamline your practice and make HR challenges easier to handle than ever before.

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