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This webinar will focus on three issues and/or questions. Each will be addressed separately but we will also discuss their connectivity and relationship with each other.
Firstly, we will answer the question, “Can I require my employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine?”
While two vaccines are currently available, we continue to hear about people, including front-line and healthcare workers who are refusing to get the vaccine. In Ohio, it’s estimated that 60% of nursing home workers declined to get the vaccine!
It is not clear why they are refusing the vaccine but we can think about a number of issues including religious and medical objections as well as concerns over the science behind the vaccines. Whatever the reason, if a percentage of hospital workers, nurses, and doctors on Covid units are not getting the vaccine they are eligible to get, then we know that when it comes time that we can help our own employees get the vaccine, not all will want it. This will cause a bunch of issues in organizations that we haven’t even come close to really knowing, yet.
Related to requiring the vaccine, are questions over disciplining or even terminating an employee who does not get the vaccine.
Secondly, “How do I get my employees to take the vaccine?”
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of our employees will want to get the vaccine and get back to life as “normal” before the pandemic. So, anything we can do to encourage and/or entice our employees to get the vaccine will be a bonus. Among the incentives that may be used are:
One question that needs to be addressed related to the vaccine has to do with what is called ‘herd immunity.’ There is some data to suggest that you don’t have to have 100% of employees get vaccinated to make the workplace safe.
Lastly, we need to answer the question, “What do I need to do to make the workplace safe for my employees, customers, visitors and guests?”
This question is not just about the safety protocols and procedures that you put into place but also about the liability that is caused by not enforcing or addressing those procedures and protocols.
OSHA and other federal agencies have provided guidance to employers on how to safely return to work. This, however, does not address the employees’ reluctance to return to work and how we will address those issues.
One of our primary responsibilities as an employers’ is to provide and safe and healthy workplace. In addition, employees are obligated to follow our safety and health guidelines or risk disciplinary action and/or termination. At the same time, there are any number of reasons for these guidelines to create employee relations problems.
Again, you have to weigh the outcome of doing something like this. Those employees who refuse the vaccine, sign your agreement, and you make that public among your employees is now wearing a scarlet letter around. That isn’t good either, from a cultural standpoint.
When the topic of vaccines and vaccinations comes up, the first question I am asked is, “Can I require my employees to be vaccinated?” While I am sure that my attorney friends will have a different take, the answer is a definitive, “yes, but…” I think that better question is, “How do I encourage my employees to get the vaccine and how to I facilitate that?”
My initial hesitation on mandatory vaccination policies is really a tactical one. Are we prepared to discipline and/or terminate an employee who refuses? How will we handle requests for accommodation for religious or medical reasons? What will we do about face masks, social distancing and other current methods?
It is unlikely that we will be able to provide inoculation at the workplace, at least for the near term. How will we verify and document that an employee did, in fact, get vaccinated? More problematically, the current vaccines require two separate doses, about one month apart. How will we know that our employees got both vaccinations? Does this request for medical documentation create another obligation under the Americans with Disability Act?
My last question (at least for now) is, how do we deal with the perceptions and concerns of our employees? The answer to this question is simple; communicate, communicate and communicate some more. One of the very real concerns that people have had during the pandemic is the confusing and, often, contradictory information we gotten from the government and health care officials.
This is a perfect opportunity to provide information from health care experts in our community as well as training our supervisors to address questions.