With the recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals of COVID-19 vaccines, the topic of vaccines in the workplace—specifically what employers can do—has been a major point of discussion. Topics like, should or can employers implement a vaccination policy, should or can employees be required by employers to receive a vaccination, what will keep my employees and customers safe, what should employers consider when discussing vaccination options, and what are the pros and cons to mandating a vaccine?
While there are many factors that go into making these decisions, however, it is ultimately up to the employer to decide what they feel would be best for their employees and business. Employers should consider all options, weigh the pros and cons as it pertains to their business, employees, and customers, and use substantiated information to make the best possible informed decision.
To Implement a Policy or Not: That is the Question
Mandating vaccines is the sole choice of the employer. Regardless of the final decision, there are many items to consider. For example, what are the implications for the business, for employees, and customers? When it comes to employees, what steps are you willing to take to either enforce vaccination, continued social distancing or masking, or leave these items to the discretion of each employee? These decisions should be discussed with your human resources representative or team, collaborate with any internal leadership or stakeholders, and, ensure you are approaching the subject appropriately and taking all options into consideration.
Having a fully vaccinated workforce would provide employers peace of mind that their employees are safe and healthy and therefore would take fewer sick days and reduce the risk of spreading illness. It would also provide comfort that the company is focused on protecting any customers with whom employees come into contact.
Objections to implementing a vaccination policy—such as current health conditions that prevent employees from being able to receive certain vaccines, and religious beliefs that prevent employees from being required to receive a vaccination—need to be taken into account if the decision is made to implement a vaccination policy.
In order to implement a mandatory vaccination policy, the vaccine must first be deemed safe and widely available. Additional components to consider when implementing the policy include:
- Vaccine Costs: If the employee’s health insurance does not cover the cost of the vaccine entirely, employers should reimburse or cover the additional funds to avoid a financial burden on the employee.
- Educate Employees: Employees should have access to documentation and resources that discuss the safety and importance of vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, in an effort to encourage them to get vaccinated.
- Incentivize Employees: You can offer incentives to employees who choose to get vaccinated, encouraging others to do the same. You can also offer paid time off for employees to get the vaccine and recover from any possible side effects.
- Employee Exemptions: The vaccination plan should include the option to opt out of receiving the vaccine for medical conditions and/or religious beliefs.
- Human Resources: HR professionals should be the team that handles the communication and distribution on the vaccination policy because they’re typically well-versed in employee-related communications surrounding sensitive topics.
- Job Descriptions: Employers and HR should update any job descriptions to include any essential duties—such as travel and customer interaction—that would require a mandatory vaccination.
- Job Interviews: Employers are legally allowed to ask potential job candidates if they are vaccinated against COVID-19. The ADA prohibits employers from asking candidates questions that would reveal a disability during the hiring process, however, the EEOC has clarified that asking employees if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine is not a disability-related question. Any follow-up questions must be job-related and should be reserved until after making an offer.
Has This Happened Before?
In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) established its first set of guidelines around mandatory vaccination policies due to the H1N1 pandemic (commonly known as “swine flu”). In their guidelines, the EEOC concluded that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited employers from compelling certain employees from getting vaccinated. The EEOC, in accordance with ADA, also concluded that any employee with underlying medical conditions should be allowed to be exempt from any mandatory vaccination requirements. Similarly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows this same exemption to be given to employees with sincerely held religious beliefs if vaccination legitimately offends the employee’s religious beliefs. In an ADA-protection situation, alternative accommodations would need to be implemented for these employees if a vaccination policy is put in place. These accommodations could include reducing these employee’s interactions with other staff and/or customers.
Outside of these two accommodations, there may also be state-specific laws surrounding vaccination policies. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) remains current on these state laws which can be reviewed here.
Vaccines in the Workplace Best Practices
Here are some best practices and guidance from the CDC surrounding workplace vaccinations:
- Whether you are mandating vaccinations or not, employers should offer flexible, non-punitive sick leave options for any employees who decide to receive the vaccine—including the COVID-19 vaccine—and experience side effects afterwards.
- Build confidence in vaccines, specifically the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees who are hesitant to get vaccinated may become more confident and willing after seeing their colleagues get vaccinated.
- Consider hosting an on-site vaccination clinic. Employers can utilize mobile vaccine clinics that can come directly to the office location to vaccinate employees. The CDC offers guidance on how to host a workplace vaccination clinic for management, human resources, employees, and labor representatives.
- If hosting a vaccination clinic at your workplace is not possible, employers should make it easy and stress-free for employees to get vaccinated off-site. For example, allow your employees to get vaccinated during work hours, or take paid leave to get vaccinated. You can also support transportation to vaccination site by reimbursing employees for taxis, public transportation, and rideshare services.
- Promote confidence in vaccines in your workplace by sharing updated, credible information. There is a lot of information circulating on the safety of vaccines, specifically the COVID-19 vaccine, so it is important to make sure you are sharing the most recent updates from credible sources with your employees. The CDC offers some tips on how to build confidence in vaccines in your workplace that you can utilize with your employees.
- Additional resources such as posters, stickers, factsheets, graphics, and videos relating to the recent COVID-9 vaccines can be found here.
If you are not considering mandating vaccines in your workplace, here are some ways you can operate safely with your employees and customers.
- Each business has the option to require face coverings to be worn by staff and customers at all times. You can require your staff, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear face masks when interacting with customers, or in shared areas of the office.
- In shared work areas such as conference rooms and break rooms, employees should practice CDC guidelines of maintaining six feet of distance between each other, and limit the number of employees in these shared spaces at one time.
- Employers can modify or adjust workstations to maintain a six foot distance, and incorporate transparent shields or physical barriers where six feet is not possible.
- Provide disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer throughout the office.
- Encourage employees who are not feeling well, or who have symptoms of COVID-19, to stay home. This includes if a family member of your employee’s is also sick or experiencing symptoms.
- More guidance on how to keep your workplace safe can be found here.
If you’re looking to implement a vaccination policy for your workforce or looking for alternative options Vensure Employer Services is here to assist! Our team of human resource management consultants will help you determine if a vaccination policy is the best option for your business, and will assist with establishing best practices around the policy. Our HR team of experts is here to support business owners with navigating sensitive topics with their employees and will provide you with all the tools, knowledge, and resources you need to make the best decision for your business and employees.