The issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations, specifically, whether or not to get/mandate one, has become a fire hot issue over the summer. In July, the President announced vaccination requirements for the federal government and asked the private sector to do more to encourage vaccinations. In response, all 50 states have announced new vaccination requirements, and the private sector is following suit with job postings requiring vaccinations up 90% since July. More recently, the President announced a new requirement, to be enforced by OSHA, that all employers with at least 100 employees must ensure their employees are vaccinated or tested weekly. Employers will have to provide employees paid time off for the time it takes to get vaccinated and for any employee experiencing bad side effects from the vaccination and is unable to work. Once OSHA issues the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) with these requirements, over 80 million employees in the private sector will be impacted. The ETS will remain in effect for six months, at which time it must be replaced by a permanent OSHA standard. Now that it has been established employers can, and in some cases will be required to, mandate vaccines, employers must plan now for how to implement the requirement. Whether complying with the upcoming ETS (100+ employers) or voluntarily deciding to mandate vaccines in the workplace (smaller employers), both types of employers have one important thing in common – they need a well-written and communicated mandatory vaccination policy.
Educate And Communicate
Before getting to the 5 Ws of an effective mandatory vaccination policy, a word about educating and communicating which goes hand-in-hand with rolling out a mandatory vaccination policy. Employers will inevitably find that some employees are hesitant about getting the vaccine, and it would be a mistake to alienate those employees. A better approach is to provide information from reliable, trust-worthy sources on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. To reassure employees, corporate leadership can share stories about their experiences getting the vaccine. These measures will go a long way towards reassuring hesitant employees and showing all employees the company genuinely cares about its employees and their welfare. After everyone is made aware of the policy, all leaders and HR should make themselves available to discuss the policy and answer any questions. Now to the five Ws of a comprehensive mandatory vaccination policy.
Your policy must state who is required to get the vaccine. While your policy should state all employees are required to get it, the policy should also address employees with a medical or religious reason for not wanting to get it. The EEOC has issued guidance that clearly states employees may be granted an exemption from getting the vaccine for medical reasons or because of a sincerely-held religious belief. Your policy should explain how an employee requests a medical or religious exemption. Employers are entitled to reasonable verification in support of a medical exemption, but should remember any documentation addressing the medical exemption is considered confidential and should not be included in an employee’s personnel file. Handling an employee’s request for a religious exemption may not be so straight forward. Religious objections are protected even if they are not supported by a formal religious group. Employers generally don’t want to get into the business of questioning employees’ religious beliefs and should only request further verification in rare cases where the employer has a solid reason to question the employee’s objection is due to his/her religious beliefs.
Your policy should clearly state employees must get the vaccine regardless of whether they have antibodies. It is simply administratively easier to require the vaccine of all employees rather than carving out those who may have, or believe they have, antibodies and don’t think they can get COVID-19.
The policy should clearly explain what exactly is being required. Will you require proof of vaccination, and if so, in what manner? If you request proof, remember that is confidential information and must not be kept in the employee’s personnel file. Some have wondered if requesting proof is a HIPAA violation. It is not. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), stipulates that healthcare providers, insurers and any other entities with access to patients’ private medical information cannot share that information with their employer. HIPAA has no impact on employers mandating vaccines, nor does it bar them from asking their employees medical questions. The policy must also state what happens if an employee without an acceptable exemption refuses to comply and get the vaccine. Will the employee be issued a warning or not be allowed on the premises until vaccinated? The consequences for non-compliance must be clearly explained.
Your policy should state the deadline by which employees must be vaccinated, and/or provide proof of vaccination. Whether or not employees can take time off from work to get the vaccine must be addressed in the policy. Employers subject to the ETS must pay employees for time spent getting the vaccine and for any time missed from work due to side effects from the vaccine. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must pay non-exempt employees for the time spent undergoing testing during the workday. While not entirely clear, this likely includes mandatory testing occurring on employees’ days off if the testing is necessary to perform their jobs safely during the pandemic.
Many employers are offering vaccination clinics onsite, and your policy should provide information if this is the case at your company. Employer goings this route may consider engaging a community vaccination provider/vendor. These providers usually have trained nursing staff and can bill insurance for administrative fees and can report vaccine administration data to immunization registries. Employers preferring employees get vaccines off-site should provide information on pharmacies in the area providing low/no-cost vaccines and whether an appointment is needed or if they are administered on a walk-in basis. The policy can address whether your company is providing transportation to off-site vaccination clinics, such as paying fares for taxis or ridesharing services.
Finally, employees are must more willing to comply with a policy if they understand the why behind it. You can focus on the endgame, a fully vaccinated workforce, and what that means specifically for employees and the workforce at large. Having a vaccinated workforce means getting back to normal, seeing each other in person again, getting work done without worrying about one’s safety and without fear of bringing COVID-19 home and infecting family members.
Get Smart About A Mandatory Vaccination Policy With Smart HR
Whether large or small, employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines must quickly get geared up and ready. Being prepared starts, but in no way ends, with a well-written mandatory vaccination policy. HR, managers and corporate leadership must understand the policy and how to administer it before rolling it out to all employees. Training is a must. A well-written, clear policy is worthless without proper administration and follow through. Smart HR can help you with both writing a comprehensive mandatory vaccination policy and its implementation. There are no cookie-cutter policies when you engage with Smart HR. Smart HR understands your unique challenges, workforce and circumstances and can tailor a mandatory vaccination policy with those parameters in mind. After assisting with policy implementation, Smart HR is always available to discuss and resolve hiccups that may occur along the way. Get Smart HR and call today.