As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic devastation receded in India, a debilitating impact of the virus was seen across parts of Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s daily Covid-19 cases per million people had surpassed India’s in May, along with the Philippines and Thailand. Around the same time, Cambodia and Indonesia faced a similar plight with the resurgence of this deadly virus.
As vaccination drives sweep across Asia, there is a significant variance in the percentage of the vaccinated population across the region. Statista indicates that about 4% of the population is vaccinated in Vietnam, 9-12% of Indonesia, South Korea, and Laos, and around 47% of Singapore are fully vaccinated. Japan, the host of the Summer Olympic Games, has surprisingly vaccinated only around 20.4% of its population.
Singapore’s vaccination drive across 38 centers is a confluence of robust infrastructure, personalized experiences, information technology, interpreters, and skilled staff. Indonesia has a two-pronged vaccination strategy comprising free vaccines for the general public and paid vaccinations for corporate employees. As offices start resuming operations and a proportion of employers returning to the workplaces, organizational leaders and HR professionals realize that there will be a mix of vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees for a considerable amount of time. Several dilemmas are now seen at the workplaces which need to be addressed.
Should employers make vaccination compulsory?
Across Asia, the legal fraternity more-or-less agrees that employers cannot make testing and vaccination mandatory. However, it majorly depends on the type of industry and operations. Anantara, for instance, has vaccinated all employees across its five properties in Southern Thailand. Along similar lines, Hongkong Peninsula Hotel has strongly advised its employees to get vaccinated and has mentioned layoffs in case of a shortfall in the target vaccination rate of 70%. Hong Kong has rolled out vaccination leave for its civil servants. In Australia, Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines has made Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for all its employees.
So, should vaccination be made compulsory or not? While some people will most certainly get vaccinated whenever their turn arrives, others are reluctant due to perceived side effects. Some have religious beliefs and medical conditions, such as pregnancy and allergies or comorbidities that don’t allow them to get vaccinated. Under such circumstances, governments are still contemplating whether or not to make vaccination mandatory for all.
What is happening after returning to the workplace?
As employees return to their workplaces, HR managers have to consider aspects such as capacity in the new normal, essential and non-essential employees, external-facing, and back-end based. To make things even more complex, there are two more categories of employees – the ones who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t.
Combining these two aspects of office; capacity, and vaccination tenets, HR Leaders are now confronted with the following questions:
- Should only vaccinated employees return to the workplace?
- Can vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees work alternate days or shifts?
- Should only vaccinated employees handle external stakeholders?
- Should the return of vaccinated employees be prioritized over non-vaccinated employees?
- How to manage social distancing norms for both categories of employees?
- Should the vaccination status of employees be disclosed?
- What should be the different sets of workplace health, safety, and leave policies?
- How can vaccinated and unvaccinated employees work together?
The HR leaders in many organizations deal with situations wherein vaccinated employees are closely working with unvaccinated employees. This raises a slew of questions and concerns around team dynamics, manager perceptions, day-to-day working, social distancing, safety, and many more. The management and HR groups are dealing with several common workplace scenarios.
Some vaccinated employees have concerns about working with unvaccinated employees, and some managers may pressurize unvaccinated employees to either stay at home or return only after vaccination. There have been contemplations on segregating workplaces based on the vaccination status, which will have productivity, functional and psychological ramifications. Fine-tuned HR policies have incorporated vaccination leaves, vaccination passports for international traveling employees, and employee health insurance and benefits that include vaccination and medical conditions arising from any adverse reactions. Employers are also regulating authorized disclosure of employee vaccination status. The vaccination status is hence another aspect that can precipitate discrimination and legal damages at the workplace.
How to ensure equality and minimize claims?
With the vaccination status being another diversity index, the HR department needs to work closely with their legal counsels and IT department to carefully consider possible circumstances and situations of legal cases and damage claims on account of vaccination-related preferential treatment.
Employment contracts now include vaccination clauses for specific roles and functions. Making vaccination mandatory and repeated insistence of employers may cause employees to resign and file damage claims. Claims can be filed in cases of adverse reactions or injuries or death on account of employees’ vaccinations on instructions by employers. On the other hand, unvaccinated employees may also file claims and suits if they are denied commissions, promotions, and bonuses. Unauthorized or wrongful disclosure of employee data, including vaccination status, will be considered a personal data breach and may result in additional penalties.
How should organizations resolve the vaccination conundrum?
As vaccination drives increase along with workforce return, organizations across Asia are getting their HR, legal, and IT security teams together and firming up fair and transparent policies to have inclusion and minimize and eliminate damages and litigations.
These policies encompass:
- Analysis of employees’ polls on vaccination
- Mandatory or non-mandatory vaccination policies
- Incorporating leaves and reimbursements for vaccination
- Information dissemination on vaccination and possible side effects using eminent doctors and third-party agencies to propagate and encourage vaccination
- Health and insurance policies to cover Covid-19 vaccination and all possible eventualities
- Updated data protection and confidentiality policy to include vaccination data
- Reassuring employees that their data would be treated with the utmost sensitivity and by all applicable laws
- Debriefing employees on personal information collection forms and taking consent for disclosure of vaccination status
Careful and diligent consideration and implementation of these factors ensure a robust, fair, non-discriminatory, and transparent working environment. Going forward, for a harmonious relationship, employers and employees should be aware of all legal aspects, including risks, liabilities, claims, and entitlements.