An increasing number of organizations are considering—or instituting—a requirement that their attendees, exhibitors, speakers, and staff be vaccinated to attend their meetings. Whether welcome or controversial, a mandate raises legal questions around an event host’s responsibilities and obligations. Meetings-industry attorney Joshua Grimes, (pictured) Grimes Law Offices, LLC sets the record straight.
MeetingsNet: Does a meeting host have to offer a virtual option if they plan to mandate vaccinations?
Grimes: No, a virtual option is not required, but it is often a good idea. If some attendees cannot be vaccinated because of they are immuno-compromised or have allergies, the host must provide “reasonable accommodations” for those attendees or it might be a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Some attendees may also have valid religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated. Apart from legal obligation, a virtual option is a good idea for those prospective attendees who just don't want to be vaccinated. It keeps them involved with the meeting.
MeetingsNet: If proof of vaccination is required to enter a meeting, is the host responsible if they fail to spot a fake vaccination card and someone gets Covid and decides to sue?
Grimes: If a meeting host fails to spot a fake vaccination certificate, it's possible that liability could attach if someone contracted Covid at the event and suffered damages—but for them to prevail in a lawsuit is unlikely. The attendee would need to prove that he or she got sick from the person with the fake certificate. Further, the attendee would need to show that the meeting host failed to apply due care to the meeting in terms of Covid safety protocols, in other words, that the host was negligent. As long as the host complied with state and local requirements and met the due-care burden in doing so, there would likely be no negligence.
Also, about 30 states have “Covid shield laws” that make it very difficult for someone to bring a court case arising from Covid. If the meeting was in one of those states, the affected attendee would have a hard time prevailing.
Nevertheless, anyone can bring a lawsuit for almost any reason, which would cost the meeting host money to defend that suit. This is why some organizers use waivers in addition to applying due care to their actions at the event; they discourage attendees from even bringing a claim.
MeetingsNet: In addition to providing proof of vaccination, some organizations ask attendees, exhibitors, and speakers to attest that they’re being truthful about their vaccination status. Is his worthwhile?
Grimes: The attestation requirement is helpful, but it does little more than requiring proof of vaccination. People can lie on their attestation certificate and, unfortunately, some probably do. To discourage attendees from lying, some groups make it clear that there would be penalties for not being truthful, such as a ban from attending future meetings or revocation of membership in the organization.
No Vax, No Entry
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Pre-Event Communications
Part 3: Health-and-Safety Terms and Conditions
Part 4: The On-Site Vaccine Verification Process
Part 5: A Kink in the Vaccination Plan: Supplier Labor
Part 6: Vaccine Mandates: A Legal Q&A