Thankfully, COVID-19 vaccination rates are up and infection rates are down for the first time in a long time. As of June 28, 46.4% of the country is fully vaccinated while another 54.2% of people have at least one dose according to the CDC COVID data tracker. With the numbers starting to trend in the right direction, many companies are considering how to safely integrate employees back into the office.
Whether you want your employees to come back into the office full-time or on a hybrid schedule, the question remains: how do we approach the topic of vaccinations? Vaccines are a sticky subject as many people have different opinions on the matter. In order to determine the approach your company should take, it’s important to understand what power your company actually has when it comes to vaccination policies.
Can you require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination?
The short and uncomplicated answer is yes, employers can require employees to be fully vaccinated in order to physically work in the office. However, if you’re going to require employees to be fully vaccinated, there are some documents you’ll want to review first.
First and foremost, you will need to conduct an in-depth review of some of the existing regulations as laid out by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It would be wise to familiarize yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities within the workforce. You can learn more about the ADA here. In addition to understanding the ADA, you will also want to review Title XII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against any employee based on race, gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, and more.
For COVID-19 vaccination policies, employers are required to make accommodations for employees who cannot receive the vaccine due to a physical disability or religious observation so long as the accommodation does not cause financial hardships to the employer.
Additional information to keep in mind is that certain communities have less access to the vaccine; therefore, some individuals may experience some difficulties in receiving it. As part of Title XII, employers cannot implement policies that exclude certain races, genders, sexes, etc. Employers should expect to discuss with their employees the basis for a vaccination policy prior to its implementation so employees do not feel discriminated against once the policy is in place.
If you have members of your team that require accommodations for any of the above reasons, you may find some options below:
- Offering remote work
- Providing a modified in-person schedule
- Requiring masks be worn inside
- Enforcing social distancing
- Requiring negative COVID tests
- Requiring daily COVID screenings
If you have more questions about EEOC requirements, you can refer to this site.
What a vaccination policy needs to cover
Vaccination policies may look different from state to state or even from company to company. Much of what your policy entails is going to be based on your individual employer. That being said, there are some basic aspects of a vaccination policy that will most likely be included in the policy your company decides on.
Detailed information and instruction on the vaccine
Education and open communication are essential for successfully implementing a vaccination policy. In March, a survey was conducted by CBS and found that approximately 60% of unvaccinated survey participants do not trust medical experts regarding COVID-19 according to this Newsweek article.
The goal of the vaccine is to increase the safety and health of everyone, but there may be some employees who do not yet feel safe getting the vaccine. Before your team makes it a requirement, employees should be given a detailed outline of what the vaccine is and how it works in order to provide them with as much helpful information as possible. If employees still choose to not get vaccinated or are unable to get vaccinated, your team should be prepared to offer accommodations.
List of accommodations for unvaccinated individuals
As previously mentioned, your company may have to offer accommodations for employees who, for whatever reason, are unable to receive the vaccine. The examples previously mentioned are promising options as they are all realistic and should not exceed your budget.
Some employees may be incentivized to not get the vaccine if they enjoy the thought of remote work or flexible hybrid schedules. If your team is concerned about this possibility, consider whether continuing to offer remote work is the best approach for your team. To prepare for the transition towards a hybrid schedule, read this article.
Local and state guidelines
Depending on where your team is located, the local and state mandates surrounding COVID-19 may differ. Although most states are currently in the process of lifting restrictions, not every state is following the same process.
When informing your team of your vaccine policy, you should also cover the local and state regulations. Including this information can avoid employees feeling “attacked” or forced into the vaccine. It also helps your team to best understand the approaches suggested by your local and state governments.
Ultimately, the details of your company’s vaccination policy, should you choose to have one, is entirely up to you and your team. Please note, a good deal of research should be conducted prior to implementing a vaccination policy in order to avoid any legal issues. If you’re struggling to communicate with your team members to understand their needs during this time, check out this article from BrandResumes’ HR Corner.
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