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Can employers require the COVID vaccine? Can they legally ask if you've been vaccinated?

Many believe incorrectly, that HIPAA prevents employers from asking about your vaccine status.

CLEVELAND — With the recent change in mask and vaccine guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and the state of Ohio, many of you have questions. Can businesses ask for proof of a COVID-19 vaccine from employees and customers? 

Generally, the answer is yes.

A growing number of companies are announcing workplace vaccine requirements, including Delta Airlines, which will require all new employees to be vaccinated, but not current employees. Meanwhile, the production of the Broadway show, "Hamilton," also announced that all staff and performers will be required to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, as the show is getting ready to return to live in-person performances in September.

But companies considering a vaccine mandate need to consider its impact on its workforce, which depends on the company's culture.

"[A vaccine requirement] could possibly eliminate some candidates, or that could broaden the base of candidates as well," said human resources consultant Renee West, from Rea and Associates in New Philadelphia. West believes that companies that are dealing with labor shortages could find that mandates are a tough sell among workers. But it cuts both ways. "Employees may look at it like they don't want to get the vaccine, and they leave, so it could increase turnover. But on the flip side too, it could help from a safety perspective," she said.

Do employers have the right to ask workers if they've been vaccinated? 

Yes, according to Kimberly Hall, employment attorney from Critchfield, Critchfield & Johnston law firm. Many believe that employees don't have to divulge their vaccination status because of privacy laws within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. The federal law generally applies to health plans and providers, not employers, or even the store where you shop.

"People are under the incorrect impression that nobody is able to ask you for anything related to your medical history, or your current medical status including your vaccination status," said Hall. She notes that the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is more likely to come into play when an employer asks for vaccination proof. Companies should be careful to request information only on the vaccine, and no other medical information.

But vaccine status requests and mandates could rankle the rank-and-file. In a study released last month by Arizona State University, 65-percent of U.S. companies said they plan to require COVID-19 vaccines. However, in a survey by the Society of Human Resources Management, 28-percent of workers said they would quit, if they were required to be vaccinated.

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Editor's Note: The below video is from a previously published story