EEOC commissioner wants industry-specific COVID-19 guidelines

By Jon Hyman

May. 10, 2021

Last week, the EEOC held a public meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on civil rights in the workplace. Following up on the remarks at that meeting, EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling, speaking at a virtual summit held by the Institute for Workplace Equality, said that employers need guidance on whether their COVID-related decisions are legal, and that the EEOC should issue industry-specific guidance to clear up these ambiguities.

Law 360 quotes Commissioner Sonderling:

I stress that the commission must issue new, common-sense guidance on return-to-work and other timely issues. Moving forward, the EEOC must begin to issue industry-specific guidance to address the array of issues that are becoming prevalent as the pandemic enters its final stage. … It’s my belief that businesses must know they will not be penalized by the federal government or through litigation for taking bold steps to help their workers thrive amid COVID-19 and ultimately return to the workplace.

High on my list of topics that the EEOC must quickly address is the legality of vaccine incentives. Another issue that I’d love to see the agency address is whether certain industries (e.g., health care, education) can be more strict with vaccine requirements than others, even for employees who might otherwise require a legal exception.

With vaccine hesitancy a legitimate barrier to reaching herd immunity, we need rules that will permit employers to get as many individuals vaccinated as possible. We need to be breaking down barriers, not erecting them.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at


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