Mark PestronkQ: Our agency specializes in arranging travel for meetings and conventions. Our clients are large affinity groups, nonprofits and corpora
Q: Our agency specializes in arranging travel for meetings and conventions. Our clients are large affinity groups, nonprofits and corporations. Our clients canceled all their meetings and conventions through this coming summer, but they still plan to hold events scheduled for this fall and beyond. Perhaps one way to help ensure success would be to require all participants to prove that they have been vaccinated. Can they legally require this? Would they have to make exceptions in unusual circumstances, such as allergies and religious beliefs?
A: Yes, the organizations can legally require all prospective participants to prove that they have been vaccinated. Although they may want to make exceptions under certain circumstances, they are not legally required to do so.
In the case of allergies or health conditions that make getting a vaccine inadvisable, the only relevant law might be the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Although the ADA would apply to the hotel operator, which must make “readily achievable” physical changes, the law would not apply to organizations that are customers of the hotels, such as your group clients, unless the attendees were also employees of the organization.
So, if a prospective attendee says he has an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine, your client can say, “Sorry, but you cannot attend,” or your client could require him to attend virtually.
In the case of religious convictions against vaccination, the civil rights laws do not apply to attendance at meetings and conventions, unless the attendees are also employees. Although the hotel itself obviously cannot discriminate against guests on the basis of religion, the event organizer can.
As with all civil rights laws, there may be state or local laws that expand the application of civil rights laws, so your clients need to consult with attorneys in their home states as well as the states where the conventions will be held.
I realize that there are practical reasons why a mandatory vaccination policy might not be advisable. For example, most Americans under age 65 currently have no idea when they will be vaccinated, so they may not want to sign up for the convention. Their hesitation may cause your attendee head count to be so limited that you may need to cancel or postpone the meeting.
Another practical consideration is that the hotel’s staff may not be vaccinated by the date of the meeting, so there is still at least a chance that they could infect vaccinated attendees, as could unvaccinated family members who attend some functions. In addition, there presently is no proof that vaccinated people don’t infect others.
If your client is primarily interested in protecting herself, then you can recommend that the client require each attendee to sign a Covid waiver, which can be a stand-alone agreement or a clause in a general attendee agreement.
Finally, you could help your clients by referring them to the CDC’s list of recommendations for meetings and gatherings, which you can find here.