What employers and employees need to know about COVID-19 vaccines

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Vaccines are here, what employers need to know.

As the global community rejoices over the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, employers are once again struggling to understand how this new development affects their workforce. One question I hear a lot is, “Can an employer ask employees to get vaccinated before returning to work?” While the available guidance supports a mandatory vaccine policy, there are some very important considerations that must be taken into account when implementing this type of policy. Let’s take a look at what these considerations are and how the vaccine will affect your business.

First things first, you need to develop a plan. We know that there are a limited number of vaccines and will be distributed in batches. It is unlikely that all of your employees will be vaccinated at the same time. How you approach the current relaxation of restrictions in the workplace will depend on your industry, the type of work you do, and how you’ve been operating up to this point. An accounting firm with remote workers may be able to offer more flexibility to employees who work from home as the manufacturing facility may be stricter with their mandates, knowing that employees must be on-site to do their jobs. Take the time to consider an approach that will provide your organization the ability to continue operations while keeping your employees, customers, and the public safe, which is something OSHA requires of all employers.

If you decide that a mandatory vaccination policy is right for your organization, here are the most common considerations you’ll need to take when rolling out your plan.

  • Is your organization subject to a collective bargaining agreement under the National Labor Relations Act? If so, you will need to reach out to the union and work with them to develop and implement this policy for these union employees.
  • When it comes to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) would be concerned if your organization was considering employees who oppose the vaccine because of sincere religious beliefs. Failure to provide housing for such a request may result in you being charged an EEOC fee for discrimination. Employers are required to provide reasonable amenities under Title VII unless this results in undue hardship for the organization.
  • While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows an employer to require that “an individual may not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace” (such as what might happen if you have an employee who is vulnerable in the workplace), doing so cannot be done. It disproportionately affects people with disabilities. Employers will have to conduct specific assessments to determine risk levels and provide adequate accommodation.
  • Continue to monitor the development of labor laws. There is no doubt that the ever-changing pandemic landscape will continue to issue legislation and guidance – stay tuned!

This overview will help you anticipate and browse common problems that will arise from vaccine deployment. It will be important to study and analyze each concern to determine the best course of action under the law. I know there is a lot to think about and absorb. If you want to delve into what works best for your business, reach out to him. Moving forward into the next phase of this pandemic can be overwhelming and our team is here and ready to help you overcome it, you are not alone.

Vanessa Loewinger

Author: Vanessa Loewinger

Vanessa is an innovative, experienced and self-motivated HR expert who is adept at creating and nurturing an employee-oriented culture of professional excellence, focused on achieving goals, and using a process-oriented approach to obtain win-win results. Vanesa has more than ten years of progressively responsible HR experience, including employee relations, payroll entry / processing, benefits administration, human resource information systems (HRIS), policies, 401k administration, and workers compensation administration.

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