Being immune to COVID-19 means many things to many people, including the chance to send kids back to school, a reprieve from working at home, the ability to visit with and even hug friends and loved ones, and the opportunity to eat out, attend public performances, and travel. Many activities have been on hold for the past year-plus and the key to them happening again is COVID-19 vaccines.
Yet, some people are opposed to the vaccines for a wide variety of reasons: a fear of side effects, concerns about whether they really work, contraindicated health conditions, or mistrust of vaccine manufacturers and others promoting the vaccines, including the government. So, how should you address these concerns as an employer? How can you balance them with the worries of health officials and others who think everyone should be vaccinated?
The answer will depend on your organization’s needs and operational methods. But one thing is clear: your company should absolutely have some kind of COVID-19 vaccination policy in place. In the following sections, BairesDev presents information that can help you decide what it should entail.
Depending on what your company does, you may be in a position to require that employees be vaccinated before continuing to work. For example, if team members work in close proximity to each other or to customers, you have a good case for a vaccine mandate because you don’t want unvaccinated people putting others at risk. Businesses in the healthcare, travel and retail industries are good examples of places that have strong reasons to enact a vaccine mandate.
If you decide to implement a mandate, be prepared for those who disagree with it. That may include employees, some of whom may choose to leave your employment over the issue, and customers who may decide to no longer do business with you. You may find yourself in the difficult position of having to fire workers for not getting vaccinated. Even different locations at the same company may see different reactions from workers and customers.
As challenging as these events may be, keep in mind that you may also face problems if you don’t enact a mandate. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states, “If a mandatory vaccination policy is not imposed, employees may allege that the employer has failed to provide a safe and healthy work environment, which is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
Even with a strict vaccine policy, make exceptions for those with disabilities that may not allow them to be vaccinated or those with sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from doing so. Under certain governmental guidelines, you are allowed to request documentation from a medical or religious professional to verify an employee’s request for exemption.
You aren’t required to provide exceptions for secular or medical beliefs about vaccines. Check with your HR specialist to ensure all policies comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other workplace laws. The following video addresses these exemptions:
Encourage versus Mandate
If you prefer not to mandate that employees get vaccinated, consider doing all you can to encourage them to do so:
- Give employees paid time off to go and get vaccinated during work hours and to recover in case they have side effects. Consider spreading out employee vaccinations to reduce the number of workers out at one time due to vaccination side effects.
- Cover any costs associated with getting vaccinated.
- Better yet, if you have enough team members to merit it, bring in a mobile vaccination unit to provide the shots at your premises.
- Bring in healthcare workers to talk to your staff about the benefits of the vaccine and allow plenty of time for questions.
- Give those who have been vaccinated a pin or sticker to wear to apply gentle peer pressure on those who have not yet been vaccinated.
- Offer incentives for those who get vaccinated, though be careful not to cross the line into rewards that are so enticing that offering them could be considered coercion.
- Offer help to remove barriers to vaccination.
- Err on the side of caution when lifting masking and other similar rules.
- Set a goal of what percentage of your employees you’d like to be vaccinated, and by when. Give them a reward when the goal is reached.
You could also consider a hybrid approach. For example, existing employees may be encouraged to get vaccinated, while new workers may be required to do so. Or, if you have some employees that interact with the public and others that don’t, those that do could be required to be vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says you should “allow time for vaccine confidence to grow. Workers who are hesitant at first may become more confident after seeing coworkers get vaccinated…. Ask organizations and individuals who are respected in employee communities to help you build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.”
Health Benefits and Beyond
In addition to helping stop the spread of the virus, by mandating or encouraging employees to get vaccinated, employers can achieve the following benefits:
- Increased productivity
- Decreased absences
- Improved morale
- Greater flexibility
- Draw for potential new employees
- Support and greater loyalty from customers
Create a COVID-19 Vaccination Policy That Fits Your Company
No matter what you decide to include in your COVID-19 vaccination policy, put it in writing and distribute it to all employees. You may even want to have everyone sign a form saying they have read and understood the policy.
In addition to having a vaccination policy, you’ll need to create a plan to implement it. Ideally, you should create an implementation team with members from across divisions, including HR and operations, and across worker levels. Task this team with distributing the policy and keeping track of forms. This team can also manage the delivery and secure storage of proof of vaccinations.
The end of the pandemic can only come with herd immunity, and that means a percentage of the population must be vaccinated. As an employer, you’re in a position to help make it happen.