New Jersey's largest hospital group now mandates COVID-19 vaccines for staff.

RWJBarnabas Health is requiring all employees at the supervisor level and higher to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no later than June 30, 2021. The company also expects to soon mandate the same for all employees.

In a statement, president and CEO Barry Ostrowsky says the 11-hospital system has "an obligation to do all we can to protect our patients and the communities we serve." RWJBarnabas says the "majority of team members across the RWJBarnabas Health enterprise" have already been vaccinated.

RWJBarnabas is the first hospital group to mandate vaccines for its employees, but also may be the first New Jersey company to impose the requirement. Tom Braken, CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce told NorthJersey.com no other major employer in the state has made vaccination a requirement of employment. As for what happens if an employee either refuses to be vaccinated or present a medical exemption, a spokeswoman for RWJBarnabas told NJ.com they were still finalizing the formal workplace policy.

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The issue of mandatory vaccinations is expected to intensify in the months ahead. The federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already made clear that employers are within their rights to require a COVID-19 vaccination, and has issued guidelines for employers to follow. Legal opinion is varied, but most employment lawyers agree workers could be subject to such a mandate, if accommodations are made for medical and religious exemptions. Public employees and other unionized workers have greater protections against such mandates, since workplace rules are largely government by collective bargaining agreements that would have to be modified and ratified by members.

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