How Can Employers Recognize Fake Vaccine Cards?

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. November 23, 2021
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woman holding generic COVID-19 vaccination card

Now that many employers are requiring their employees to be vaccinated in order to return to the workplace, employers are facing a surprising amount of vaccine card fraud.

"Similar to fake IDs used by underaged students to obtain alcohol, the Internet seems to have spawned a cottage industry marketing bogus cards," said Kevin Troutman, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Houston. Fake vaccination documents can be purchased through a variety of social media sites and other Internet platforms, he said.

A New Jersey woman was arrested after allegedly selling hundreds of fake vaccine cards on Instagram for $200 each, he noted.

Some employees are making homemade versions of vaccine cards.  

Forging federal government seals, such as that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found on official vaccination cards, is illegal, with violations ranging from a fine of up to $5,000 or up to five years imprisonment. Many state laws also prohibit such activity, Troutman noted.

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Tips for Detecting Whether a Card Is Fake

To determine whether a vaccine card is fake, Troutman recommended looking for:

  • The absence of information called for on the CDC vaccination record card, such as the manufacturer lot number, date and identification of the vaccine provider.
  • Misspellings.
  • Inconsistent dates.
  • The name of an unfamiliar manufacturer or provider.
  • Thin-cut paper rather than a card.
  • A card that appears to have been cut with scissors.
  • A card that has been fully printed instead of at least partially handwritten.

Confirm that the name and birth date match the information the employer has on file for the employee, recommended Carolyn Pellegrini, an attorney with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Philadelphia. "If the employee received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, confirm that the time that elapsed between the first and second doses makes sense based on CDC guidance," she said.

"The vaccine lot numbers that appear on the vaccine cards can be used to confirm that the cards are valid," Pellegrini added. "That, however, is administratively burdensome for most employers or it may be cost-prohibitive to engage a third party to conduct the confirmation."

[SHRM members-only Express Request: Tips for Spotting a Fake Vaccine Card]

Discuss concerns with the employee who presented the potentially fake card and give the worker a chance to explain discrepancies, Troutman said.

"A drugstore or other vaccine provider will not provide information to the employer because it is confidential medical information," Pellegrini said.

Discipline

An employer that confirms an employee has presented a fake vaccine card should discipline the employee, Pellegrini said. "It is up to employers to determine the level of discipline," she noted. "However, employers are treating these issues seriously and, in some cases, terminating employees.

"Employers who threaten disciplinary action for fake vaccine cards must follow through in the event they become aware of a fake card," she added. "A policy without follow-through devalues the policy."

Moreover, employees who commit vaccine card fraud are circumventing workplace safety procedures, said Christine Bestor Townsend, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee and Chicago.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, everyone in a workplace, from front-line employees to upper management, shares responsibility for keeping each other safe," said Andrew Sherrod of Hirschler in Richmond, Va.

"Trust is—and always has been—another key driver in maintaining a positive culture with a company," he said. "So as vaccinations become more prevalent and companies are able to bring more employees back together in person, that trust and spirit of common purpose must continue. If an employee breaches that trust by lying about a vaccination, there must be consequences to ensure the company values are maintained."

As a practical matter, whether a worker's lie about being vaccinated is material and warrants investigation and remedial action may depend on the employer's policy on vaccination, said J.T. Holt, an attorney with Reed Smith in Pittsburgh. For example, an employer may view a worker's misrepresentation about being vaccinated as more significant if the employer mandates vaccination, rather than merely encourages it.

Nonetheless, even if an employer only encourages vaccination, "An employee who lies about being vaccinated is more dangerous to co-workers than an employee who is not vaccinated, because it could likely lull other employees into a sense of safety," said Deborah Kelly, an attorney with Manatt in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

"Getting away with that lie could encourage that employee and other employees to be more lax in complying with workplace safety protocols," such as wearing masks, maintaining a safe distance and using antibacterial lotion, she noted.

Employers can consider reporting vaccine card fraud to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or filing a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, Townsend noted.

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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