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COVID-19 Vaccines in the Workplace

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What You Need to Know

  • One question is what the clients want.
  • An employer may need vaccination information to comply with quarantine or contact tracing rules.
  • Providing clear, prompt guidance may help.

Employers are currently faced with myriad considerations regarding coronavirus policies, with the most pressing question being: as a company, do we take a stance of encouraging employees to be vaccinated or do we make this a mandatory condition of employment?

With one in four Americans still claiming they will refuse a COVID-19 vaccine if offered one, and cases on the rise in many states around the country — many of which had been in a sharp decline for much of February and March — there’s now an even greater need for widespread vaccination to end the pandemic.

The onus falls on each individual, however employers have a role to play in providing factually accurate information about the vaccine to their employees, and in many cases encouraging or even requiring the vaccine to come back to work.

Let’s explore how leadership can determine their stance on the vaccine within their organization.

Determining Factors for Encouraging Versus Requiring the Vaccine

If your clients’ business or industry allows for flexibility, such as providing workers with remote work options, or workspaces with little internal or external with coworkers, clients or the general public, they will likely have an easier time encouraging versus requiring vaccinations in the workplace.

Encouraging does not mean you may not take a strong position. You can still provide the message that ‘in accordance with our duty to provide and maintain a workplace that is free of known hazards, we strongly encourage employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination to minimize the risk of infectious disease in our workplace’. And along with encouraging, provide the caveat that the company is not requiring all employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

For the many industries that are public facing, provide important services to the community and come into contact daily with unfamiliar personnel, the decision to mandate may be more of a requirement than an option. Although a client’s own company stance might be voluntary on vaccinations, the company may provide services to other clients or organizations whose internal vaccination policy may not mirror the company’s own. If personnel are to remain working onsite at these client locations, they may in turn be required to provide proof of vaccination to meet the clients’ requirements.

When to Require Proof of Vaccination

Requiring proof of vaccination should be carefully considered by the employer, keeping ADA guidelines in mind when making any request for either requesting personal information or sharing it with others. If used for authentic business reasons, many employers are asking employees to provide their vaccination record.

Authentic reasons may include providing a client with proof that the employee providing services meets the client’s own mandatory vaccination policy. In addition, it may be for the employer themselves, for contract-tracing purposes, to be knowledgeable of which staff members meet the CDC guidelines indicating reduced or negated quarantine periods for fully vaccinated personnel in the event they are exposed to the coronavirus either inside or outside of the workplace.

In either case, an employer should ensure that it takes proper steps to receive employee authorization prior to communicating personal vaccination information.

Managing Employee Communication and Pushback

In either voluntary or mandatory vaccination situations, employers may be faced with pushback from employees who do not intend to pursue vaccinations for sincerely held religious beliefs or for medical reasons. These cases will open an additional realm of consideration for employers, including making reasonable accommodations to ensure safety in the workplace and continuing to provide productive and meaningful work, and ultimately could entail future continued employment considerations.

Throughout the process of determining a company’s position on this topic, providing clear communication on how the company will handle vaccinations should be high priority. Historically, employee engagement surveys have highlighted ‘sufficient communication’ as an area of greater need for employers. Keeping employees informed of both the company’s stance and future policy changes or considerations is critical for employee morale. Although the decision your client’s company makes may undoubtedly be met with concern on either stance, delaying notification or providing vague guidance will breed uncertainty among the workforce.

Here’s what to tell a client’s vaccination policy architect about how to proceed:

I1. Schedule time with the decision-makers within your organization to discuss the impact of your decision on both the employees and the clients or customers

I2. Set clear guidelines on your company’s position of either encouraging or mandating vaccinations.

I3. Brainstorm with your management and human resources team on how to handle special accommodations or requests to deviate from your intended policy.

I4. Once the policy is set, provide employees with solid reasons for your decision, as well as the steps you will take to track the process and the reasons for requesting this information.

Having a consistent plan and message will alleviate uncertainty so your benefits client’s workforce can focus on getting back to what it does best.

Pen (Image: iStock)Allison Woodruff, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is a senior human resources consultant at OneDigital Benefits Group.

(Image: lakshmiprasada S/Shutterstock)


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