EUGENE, Ore. – King Estate Winery in Eugene is requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a move that is drawing controversy.
"We're very proud as a company to put such an emphasis on workplace safety and provide the resources to employees, staff, as well as their families," Chief Operating Officer Brent Stone said.
If employees want to continue to work at the winery, they must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by May 20. The winery hosted its first on-site vaccine clinic in partnership with Lane County Public Health Thursday, where employees and their family members received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Stone said the winery is planning an additional on-site clinic in the coming weeks.
Whether or not a company can require employees to get the vaccine is a hotly contested issue, as the Food and Drug Administration has yet to officially approve any COVID-19 vaccine. It has, however, approved the use of the vaccines using its emergency use authorization authority.
However, Liz Tippett an associate professor at the University of Oregon's School of Law, said employers are allowed to mandate vaccines as long as they allow certain exemptions. Those include employees who are unable to get vaccinated due to disability or religious beliefs.
According to Tippett, not wanting to get the shot doesn't qualify as one of those reasons.
"[Employers] certainly could say if you don't agree to it, you could be fired," Tippett said. "The same way they say you could be fired if you come to work late or if you violate any other policies. They certainly could say that."
Stone said the company reached out to third party experts before sending the notice informing employees about the vaccine mandate to ensure the company was within it's legal bounds. The winery plans to grant exemptions to specific employees on a case-by-case basis.
"We have allowed for a number of exceptions and accommodations as per the law," Stone said.