With the ever-changing landscape of COVID’s impact on the world and the now readily available vaccinations for the virus, many pilots (and their employers) have questions. I thought I would take a moment to address a couple of the questions I have received.
What Is The FAA’s Position On Vaccines?
The FAA does not have a position on whether an airman should or should not be vaccinated. However, the FAA does take a position on what happens if an airman is vaccinated. Specifically, it is concerned about the potential side effects an airman could suffer after receiving a vaccination. As a result, the FAA’s Federal Air Surgeon has stated that FAA medical certificate holders may not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required flightcrew member, for 48 hours after each dose a COVID vaccine.
However, an airman may do the following during the 48-hour post-vaccination period:
Provide/receive flight simulator or aviation training device instruction, including ground instruction or operational training not involving flight operations;
Perform office duty/administrative tasks;
Engage in distance learning.
Airmen who receive vaccinations are also reminded that they must also still comply with 14 CFR § 61.53(a)’s prohibition on operations during medical deficiency. This means that an airman who experiences side effects after the 48-hour period has elapsed, may not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required flightcrew member until after the airman is no longer suffering from those side-effects.
May An Employer Require Its Employees To Be Vaccinated?
The short answer is “yes.” Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have stated that an employer may require its employees to be vaccinated. However, implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy or program must also comply with other regulations.
For example, such a policy or program must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Aviation employers need to carefully craft their vaccination mandates to ensure they do not discriminate against employees with disabilities. This means if an employee has a disability that prevents the employee from taking the vaccination, he or she may be entitled to an exemption or other reasonable accommodation under the ADA
Similarly, if an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance that prevents the employee from being vaccinated, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”) he or she may be entitled to a reasonable religious accommodation. In either case, whether under the ADA or Title VII, aviation employers face multiple requirements to successfully implement a vaccine mandate. Employers and their affected employees need to work together to implement accommodations that protect the rights of both and also comply with applicable law.
Airmen who choose to be vaccinated need to be aware of, and comply with, both the FAA’s 48-hour rule as well as FAR 61.53. And before an aviation employer requires its employees to receive COVID vaccinations, the employer should carefully evaluate the implications, risks, and consequences of such a policy or program. If you have questions about airmen and/or aviation employer rights and responsibilities in connection with COVID vaccinations, please contact us and we would be happy to assist.
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