COVID-19 has taken a toll on US employers and workers over the course of the past year. Now that vaccines are becoming available, employers must decide what their role is as employees return to work. Should they and can they require workers be vaccinated? Should they provide vaccines at the jobsite? Should they pay for them?
According to a recent survey conducted by Fisher Phillips, the vast majority of employers are not considering mandating their employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine, instead choosing to encourage the shot – but a significant number of businesses remain confused and uncertain on whether and how to incentivize their workers to get inoculated.
Let’s take a look at the legal ramifications of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that employers can encourage or possibly require COVID-19 vaccinations, but policies must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other workplace laws. Therefore, any employee with a religious objection or a disability may be excused from the mandate or otherwise be accommodated in some way. And what about union members? If an employee who objects to the vaccine is a union-represented employee, the employer may need to bargain and reach an agreement with the union before mandating vaccines.
In addition to legally protected reasons, some employees may have general objections to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. If a significant portion of the workforce refuses to comply, the employer will be put in a difficult position. So rather than implementing requirements that could lead to difficult decisions, such as employee terminations, employers should focus on steps they can take to encourage and incentivize employees to get vaccinated.
Some examples include:
- Build a vaccination education campaign
- Make obtaining the vaccine as easy as possible for employees
- Cover any costs that might be associated with getting the vaccine
- Provide incentives to employees who get vaccinated
- Provide paid time off for employees to get the vaccine and recover from any potential side effects
It’s important that employers communicate clearly and often with employees and help them understand how vaccinations will make their workplace safer. Management should lead by example and ensure that they get vaccinated first.
What can employers do to prepare for vaccinating their workforce?
As vaccines become more available, employers should encourage workers to get vaccinated. Experts have estimated that it will take 60 to 70% of the population to vaccinate in order to end the pandemic. So, every employer should do their part to ensure a safe and successful vaccination process.
Encourage your employees to get a vaccination.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has developed a toolkit, located at CDC communication toolkit, to help employers educate workers about the vaccine. The toolkit was originally developed for essential workers but can be used in any workplace. It contains a variety of helpful resources that can be used to educate workers about vaccines.
Develop (or update) your pandemic plan and partner with local healthcare providers.
If an employer plans to require its employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, it should develop a written policy. The policy should include their current flu shot program to ensure there is a plan in place when vaccines are widely available. Employers should communicate the plan to workers and have resources and a contact person available to answer questions and address concerns. They can also partner with local healthcare providers to implement a vaccination schedule.
Employers will have to decide which approach will work best for their workforce. In the meantime, they should continue to reinforce COVID-19 safety precautions like encouraging face coverings, frequent hand-washing, and physical distancing whenever possible.