NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - An employer can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Nashville lawyer.

The question of if an employer can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine comes after two hospitals announced their workers must get the vaccine.

The leadership team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center will be required to get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by August 15 and the second dose by September 15. VUMC officials said everyone else would be required to get the vaccine later. But what if you can't get the vaccine or choose not to?

"Generally speaking, at will, they can fire you for whatever reason they want," attorney Jim Todd said. "However, there are protections for employees."

Todd said it comes down to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling, which states employers can require employees receive a vaccine. If employees refuse to get the vaccine, they should look to the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Civil Rights Act.

"So, if you are an employee, and you have a medical reason why you can't get the vaccine, you could get some safe harbor there," Todd said. "If you are an employee and you have a religious reason why you shouldn't get the vaccine, you could have safe harbor in the Civil Rights Act."

Todd said this would require legal action. Right now, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center's 28,000 employees, they report 72% are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, VUMC said 28% still must get the shot.

"My advice for people trying not to get the vaccine would be you have to have one of those exceptions," Todd said. "You would want to go to your employer and say, 'because of my religion, I don't want to get the vaccine, and can we work around it?'"

Todd suggested that unvaccinated people work with their employer and look into different options, such as wearing masks in the workplace or social distancing.

Ascension St. Thomas officials said "for the safety of communities," they will require COVID-19 vaccination for associates and posted the following statement on its website.

News4 reached out to Tri-Star Health. They said they do not have a statement at this time.

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