The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is certainly a shot in the arm in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but for most employers the development raises more questions than answers.
Can I legally require my employees to get vaccinated?
Even if I can legally require my employees to get vaccinated, should I do it?
How will you address employees who have disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from getting vaccinated?
Should I encourage my employees to get vaccinated, and if so, should I offer incentives to them for getting vaccinated?
Whatever employers decide, one thing is clear, you need a well-defined COVID-19 vaccination plan or strategy for your business and employees.
“Employers need to tread carefully as vaccines become readily available in the community,” wrote corporate wellness expert Alan Kohll in Forbes. “Now is the time to start shaping your workplace vaccine policies and engage your leaders. Equip leaders, managers, and HR with resources and answers they need, and create visibility around the company’s vaccination efforts. There is also a lot of frustration and anxiety around the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — a monumental undertaking — so continue to support employees with empathy.”
EEOC Says Employers Can Require Employees to Get COVID-19 Vaccination
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released guidance in December 2020 that indicates that businesses can mandate that their employees receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
“This guidance makes it very clear that employers have the law on their side," Sahar Aziz, a Rutgers Law School professor with expertise in employment discrimination, told MarketWatch. "Your employer can mandate that you take the COVID-19 vaccine, so long as you do not have a [sincerely held] religious belief or a disability that would prohibit you from taking the vaccine."
Employers must provide employees who do not want to take the vaccine due to a disability or religious belief with a “reasonable accommodation” which could be anything from a remote work, change in job duties to even unpaid leave.
That reasonable accommodation, however, can be refused if it poses an “undue hardship” on the employer.
According to the “Littler COVID-19 Vaccination Employer Survey Report” released in February 2021, the number of companies that require employees to get vaccinations will be quite small.
The report, which surveyed 1,800 in-house lawyers, HR professionals and C-suite executives found:
- Less than 1 percent (0.5 percent) currently mandate vaccination for all employees.
- 6 percent plan to mandate vaccinations for all employees once vaccines are readily available and/or the FDA grants full approval.
- 3 percent plan on requiring vaccinations of certain employees.
- 48 percent will not require vaccinations of employees.
- 43 percent are unsure, still considering vaccination policy.
Royal Caribbean cruise line has sent out a letter to crew stating that they will mandate the vaccine.
There are reports of a waitress being fired from her job in New York City after hesitating to get the COVID-19 vaccine as mandated by her employer.
Encouraging Employees to Get Vaccinated with Incentives
If the government was to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, then it would alleviate the decision-making from employers but that appears unlikely.
Both CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky , and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have downplayed any government role in mandating vaccinations.
The most likely course of action for businesses will be to encourage their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Making COVID-19 vaccination part of your workplace wellness program offers many benefits to you and your employees. To keep your workplace healthy, consider offering free, on-site COVID-19 vaccination at your business locations,” CDC says.
According to the Littler survey, companies are contemplating a variety of incentives and strategies to encourage their employees getting the vaccine:
- 87 percent will provide information on the benefits of vaccines to employees.
- 37 percent will offer vaccines on-site to employees.
- 33 percent will offer paid time off for employees to get a vaccine and recover from any side effects.
- 11 percent will provide cash awards to employees who get the vaccine.
Companies from Aldi’s to Trader Joe’s have already put incentives in place for their employees to get vaccinated.
Six Step Company COVID-19 Vaccination Plan
Claudia Schwartz, president of HR Results, told the Society for Human Resource Management that she recommends companies adopt a six-step COVID-19 vaccination plan.
Schwartz’s strategy includes:
- Assessment: Find out what employees think and feel about the vaccine via anonymous surveys. Also look at best practices other companies are implementing and learn what competitors and others in your industry are planning.
- Decision: Decide on requirement vs. encouragement based on assessment.
- Incentives: Choose what incentives your company will use to get employees vaccinated.
- Resources: Make sure your company has the HR resources, in-house or contracted out, to handle implementing your vaccine plan. Expertise will be needed on EEOC including reasonable accommodations, benefits administration, workers compensation and other HR issues.
- Communication and Education: Your company needs a well-defined communications strategy that educates your employees on your vaccination plan.
- Implementation: Project teams should implement the vaccination plan, monitoring the plan with the flexibility to change as needed.
Employers have more to think about now than ever. Employer Flexible is here to help your business when it needs to ramp up its HR resources. Contact us today to find out how our stress-free HR services can benefit your Texas-based business.