UPSTATE, S.C. (WSPA) – Today marks nine months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. 

The virus has claimed the lives of almost 300,000 Americans and counting, 4200 of those deaths are those of our own neighbors, essential workers and grandparents in here in South Carolina.

On Thursday, the FDA approved a vaccine with the promise of preventing the virus from spreading any further.

Workers in S.C. are concerned about the safety and possible unknown side effects of the vaccine, but they’re even more worried about whether their jobs will fire them for refusing to get vaccinated.

According to Jeremey Summerlin, an employment attorney at Horton Law Firm, there’s a possibility that employers can require the vaccination, but that decision could come with several liabilities.

“I think companies need to me mindful that if they force employees to get vaccinations and they do have a side effect, employees could directly link that to the vaccination that they were required to get,” Summerlin said, “The company could become liable in a worker’s compensation context.”

According to Summerlin, government employees such as teachers and state house staff along with those who work for private companies with over 15 employees can be asked to get vaccinated. Legally, employees can be fired for refusing, unless they claim that religious reasons or medical disabilities prevent them from getting the vaccine. 

Employers may require documentation from a doctor stating that the vaccine is a danger to the person’s health.

Summerlin said companies should lead with empathy when weighing the decision to require employees to take a vaccine along with the overall safest option to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“Empathy is so important if you have that interaction and relationship with your employees, if you’re willing to work with them and consider their medical conditions and emotional state,” Summerlin said,” In 2020 we need that level of empathy.”

For more information on legal rights related to vaccines, click here.