After more than a year of inestimable difficulty, COVID-19 vaccines have given us the hope of stepping out into the new normal. But, according to Dr. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, we can only expect to reach herd immunity if 70-80 percent of the population is vaccinated. Without which the pandemic shows no signs of reaching an end.
As per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and many state laws, an employer is required to provide the employee with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees. When it comes to COVID-19 employee vaccination policy- and any other vaccines – employers can mandate their employees to become vaccinated to promote a safe work environment.
However, the number of people who don’t want to get vaccinated says otherwise. According to a survey conducted on 1000 small businesses, 64 percent of employees had not received the vaccine and had no intentions of getting vaccinated in the future. While 57 percent of the employees did want to see a mandatory vaccination policy in their workplace, the question of mandated COVID-19 employee vaccination policy in the workplace is a tricky one.
The development of a COVID-19 employee vaccination policy is further complicated by the fact that many employees may seek exemption through reasonable accommodation on the grounds of medical contradiction or religious beliefs.
It’s no wonder that business owners are struggling to come up with a vaccination policy that can protect their employees and themselves. The only thing employers can do is to work with the HR teams and legal counsel to implement the right policy for their workplace.
Here are 3 steps that can help in developing a COVID-19 employee vaccination policy for your company:
1. Keep in Mind the Important Legal Considerations
The first step is to be compliant when considering an employee vaccination policy. When it comes to workplace requirements, there will be legal implications. These fall under two main categories: Sincere Religious Beliefs and Health Conditions or Disabilities.
According to Edith Pearce of Pearce Law Firm, if an employee objects to a vaccination based on religious grounds, they have the right to do so.
“If an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance against being vaccinated they are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as an employer has a duty to reasonably accommodate the employee unless this creates an undue hardship on the employer’s business,” she says.
On the basis of this exception, the employer cannot force those specific religious employees to get the vaccine. But, the employee would still have to adhere to other accommodations that would likely include wearing a mask if they have a religious objection to being vaccinated.
Medical Conditions and Disabilities
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) allows an employee exemption from a mandatory vaccine if the employee has a disability that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Alternatively, if an employee has a medical reason to object, as recognized by the ADA, they have the right to do so. In such cases, the employer may request disability-related documentation that corroborates that the individual should not receive the vaccination because of a health condition.
Again, with exceptions like these, the employer may implement reasonable accommodation such as wearing a mask as effective alternative means of infection control.
2. Be Willing to Pay out of Pocket
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S states that all COVID-19 vaccines purchased with taxpayer money will be provided free of charge. However, there may be additional administrative costs levied by vaccine providers.
If that’s a factor that can deter a pro-vaccine employee from getting vaccinated, then many employers are even willing to pay out of pocket for this. Others are also giving their employees a one-time bonus in addition to covering the cost of the vaccine.
By willing to bear the cost of the vaccine for the employee as well their immediate family, your company will not only be creating a safe and healthy work environment but you’ll also contribute to the vaccination of employees who would have otherwise have opted out of getting vaccinated due to financial reasons.
3. Let the Employees Decide How to Get the Vaccine
As many employees have moved back to their hometowns due to remote work, administering the vaccine from the office or a specific vaccination center can become difficult due to logistical challenges.
To overcome this, the employer can contact hospitals and clinics based on the employees’ locations that administer the vaccine and point them in that direction. This way your employees will still have the freedom to choose when and where to get the vaccine. You can then cover or reimburse the costs of the vaccine accordingly.
Implementing this employee vaccination policy also ensures that the employee is able to get the vaccine in a more sterile, safe environment than an office space.
For the most part, employers do have the legal right to implement a COVID-19 employee vaccination policy for their employees after making notable exceptions. Developing and implementing a vaccination policy in a thoughtful, empathetic, and clear manner will give your employees reassurance and support during these tough times.