Yes, businesses and colleges can legally keep the unvaccinated out

Aug 30, 2021, 10:46 AM
vaccine mandate...
FILE: Epidemiology nurse Amy Carter tells the Weber-Morgan Board of Health that COVID cases among school-age children are rising, while opponents of mask mandates wait for their turn to speak. (Photo: Weber-Morgan Health Department)
(Photo: Weber-Morgan Health Department)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Can businesses ask for proof of vaccination from customers or employees, or does that amount to discrimination against the unvaccinated? Isn’t that unconstitutional?

With recent developments in the news about vaccine requirements, people on social media may argue those mandates violate their rights. So we did some research to find out what the law actually says. 

Businesses can say no to the unvaccinated

The federal government does not mandate (require) a COVID-19 vaccination for people, but . . . 

Employers can legally require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to re-enter the workplace,  according to guidance issued in June by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And vaccine refusal could lead to a job loss.

The EEOC confirmed that a COVID-19 vaccination requirement by itself would not violate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to AARP. Also, the EEOC allows employers to mandate the flu vaccine, among many others, to keep workers healthy. You can learn more about that at

Businesses may legally offer vaccine incentives

Also, employers can offer incentives for employees to voluntarily confirm they have been vaccinated, but those should be optional, the EEOC said, according to

More from the AARP: These Companies Pay Employees to Get Vaccinated

For example, some companies may offer incentives in the form of insurance discounts or rebates for healthy choices. Businesses may also penalize employees for choosing to stay unvaccinated while still allowing them to make that choice — such as Delta charging more per month for insurance for its unvaccinated employees. 

Unvaccinated customers left out 

But what about customers? Can businesses require customers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19?

Social media posts claimed the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits businesses from asking about if customers are unvaccinated. The argument calls the question equivalent to “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

However, constitutional law experts dispute that argument. 

“The Fourth Amendment only applies to governmental searches and seizures and certainly not to businesses asking for proof of vaccination,” said Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University who specializes in public-health law, the AP reported in June.

What about colleges?

A public place, say a university, can’t require vaccinations, can they?

On Friday, the University of Utah indicated it intends to move toward a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students, with more information to come next week. 

A letter from Utah’s Board of Higher Education informed presidents of colleges and universities in the state that they could choose to require vaccines so long as students received options to opt-out.

Most U.S. colleges already require vaccines for viral diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella. In addition, many require meningitis vaccination for incoming freshmen. Some attorneys say universities have the same right to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Department of Education permits employers to require their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, setting a precedent that courts have affirmed, according to Best Colleges: More than 700 U.S. colleges, including most prestigious schools and state flagships, say students coming to campus in the fall must get be vaccinated.

What about the armed forces?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a memorandum Wednesday that all service members of the Department of Defense will need to be vaccinated, according to CBS News.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Obtain a flu shot.
  • Seek out the COVID-19 vaccine.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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Yes, businesses and colleges can legally keep the unvaccinated out