Experts brief Nebraska businesses on virus variants, legality of mandating vaccine

Public health officials are preaching cautious optimism to Nebraska business people.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted an online town hall with small business owners and business leaders on Wednesday. Most of the conversation focused on vaccination rates and the emergence of COVID-19 variants.

Nebraska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Anthone says the two topics are intertwined.

“I not only get a vaccine to help me but to protect us in the future so these variants can’t take over and multiply and maybe cause more reinfection or vaccine breakthroughs,” Anthone said.

The State says more than 550,000 Nebraskans are fully vaccinated, or 37 percent of the eligible population. More than 80 percent of Nebraskans 65 and older have received at least the first shot. Last week alone, health officials administered about 210,000 doses.

But can employers mandate or incentive getting the vaccine? Employment law expert Mark Schorr says it’s a delicate discussion.

“Trying to balance employee privacy rights and some HIPAA considerations versus the rights of employers to continue to operate their business,” Schorr said.

He says employers can mandate the vaccine if it is job related and consistent with business necessity. He says this is easiest to argue in the healthcare, retail and restaurant industries and there must be exceptions built in.