Insperity, an NSCA Business Accelerator, offers advice on and answers to common questions for integrators working on employee vaccine policies.
How can integration companies navigate new and tricky challenges associated with COVID-19 vaccination policies?
“Tricky” is the operative word. With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout well under way, integrators are looking to establish policies. In some ways, the availability of vaccines means a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. In other ways, it creates very complicated employee management problems. Not everyone is on board with vaccines in general, let alone COVID-19 vaccines.
NSCA recently teamed with Insperity and ClearTech on a webinar aimed at addressing questions about COVID-19 vaccine-related HR policies and concerns.
Find the recorded webinar featuring Thuy To, operations manager at ClearTech Media; Linda Villalobos, human resource consultant; Peter Zaretskiy, safety services manager at Insperity; and NSCA’s Tom LeBlanc here.
COVID-19 Vaccines: A Complicated Issue for Employers
One takeaway from the webinar discussion is that integration company leaders need to answer some tough questions before determining COVID-19 vaccine policies.
- Do you have a right to mandate that staff get a COVID-19 vaccine?
- What are you willing to risk or lose if you mandate the vaccine?
- Will any of your staff put themselves into direct COVID-19 exposure while on the job?
- If so, how can these employees be kept safe if they’re not vaccinated?
- Can your business deliver the same level of service post-pandemic as it did pre-pandemic without staff being vaccinated?
- Will your staff be as productive, comfortable, and available if you take a hands-off approach to the vaccine?
Gathering employee input through an anonymous survey might be a good idea, in some cases. You can use the answers to these questions to determine whether you want to:
- Be hands off.
- Recommend the vaccine.
- Incentivize staff to get vaccinated
- Mandate staff get vaccinated.
Each type of policy has pros and cons. Hands off (or not declaring a vaccine policy) can leave many unknowns. Knowing your company culture is important in determining whether remaining hands off is even possible.
Communication is the key to a recommendation approach. Having leaders share their vaccine experiences and providing a comfortable setting in which individuals can ask questions may help.
Incentivizing staff to get vaccinated is another possibility. This incentive could be a token gesture or small gift card. If time off is given to get vaccinated, then remember to track that for a possible tax credit.
If you choose to mandate the vaccine, keep in mind that this may not result in 100% compliance. Medical and religious exemptions are two potential variables, and there can be others. Speaking to an employment attorney may be necessary when taking the mandate approach.
Once these questions are answered and a path has been determined, it’s important to document a policy that also outlines current safety controls. Clearly express how the business will follow OSHA standards and guidelines to create a safe working environment. It’s your responsibility to maintain a safe workplace by putting safety protocols in place to minimize exposure to hazards. These controls need to be expressed so employees understand the difference between a work environment and a private environment.
Consider reminding employees that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes recommendations, but OSHA sets the rules for businesses to follow — and there may be differences between them.
The COVID-19 vaccine policy may be an evolving process.
Employee COVID-19 Vaccine Policy Questions & Answers
NSCA members submitted many questions during the webinar. Although the panelists weren’t able to answer all questions during the live event, Insperity’s Villalobos and Zaretskiy collaborated on responses to several common questions. These may be helpful to NSCA members currently wrestling with employee COVID-19 vaccination policies.
Can I ask an employee if they got the vaccine — or do they have a right not to answer?
Employers may ask employees if they have received the vaccine. They may also ask for proof of vaccination. Employers should ask about vaccination status only for job-related reasons.
Follow-up questions, such as asking why an employee did not receive a vaccination, may elicit information about a disability and would be subject to the pertinent ADA standard that they be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
If an employer requires employees to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination from a pharmacy or their own healthcare provider, or the reason why they do not plan to receive the vaccine, the employer should warn the employee not to provide any medical information to avoid implicating the ADA.
Is it true that mandating vaccines creates increased risks/obligations implemented by OSHA for employers?
Probably not. Also, if your employees perform tasks that pose elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19, a vaccine would provide additional protection.
Can an integrator require field personnel to comply with a customer’s requirements for an instant-results COVID-19 test before they’re accepted onto a worksite?
It depends. Considerations should include the reason for refusing a COVID-19 test.
Employees who refuse to take a test may be denied access to the client site. Employers should work with their HR professionals on these situations.
Can a client mandate that all technicians who come to their office be vaccinated?
It’s possible, and businesses should base this decision on the job and business necessity. They should be able to justify their decision.
What if we work with a third-party company that interacts on jobsites with our employees, and one of those third-party reps will not get vaccinated? On one hand, he may be putting our team members at risk. On another hand, he can’t do his job adequately without being onsite. What can we do?
Employers should have discussions surrounding the reason an employee does not want to be vaccinated and accommodate exceptions related to protected reasons, such as a sincerely held religious belief or disabilities. These individuals should continue to follow safety protocols, such as masks and social distancing.
Should employees who decide not to get vaccinated sign a waiver?
Waivers for such circumstances do not exist, nor can waivers be used to reduce employer general or workers’ compensation liability.
Is there employer liability if the vaccination is provided onsite?
An employer can contract with a licensed third-party healthcare provider to provide vaccinations onsite.
Do you have a good document that communicates the goals and significance of vaccination that we can share with our employees?
Sure. Share this document: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/about-vaccines/index.html
Can you ask for proof of vaccination during pre-employment processes?
Generally, employers may request vaccination documentation consistently of all job applicants and new hires.
This depends on the location of the employee. Certain states do not allow employers, or any business, to ask for proof of vaccine. Check your local and state laws to understand the laws specific to your locations.
Can we require non-vaccinated individuals to wear masks while in the office or on jobsites — and allow vaccinated individuals not to wear masks unless the jobsite requires it?
Maybe. While it is recommended that employers maintain safety protocols uniformly to all individuals during the pandemic, if an employee provides proof of vaccination and the local jurisdiction permits employees to not wear a mask, then it is possible to have different standards for those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Some locations do not allow employers or businesses to require proof of vaccine; without proof, it’s difficult to determine who is vaccinated and who is not.
What do you say to concerned individuals who, for whatever reason, do not get vaccinated but do not want to be unemployable and/or social outcasts?
Unvaccinated individuals should continue to follow safety protocols, including social distancing and use of face coverings to protect themselves and others. Certain employers may require employees to be vaccinated. If you have a medical or religious reason to decline the vaccine, you may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation. Outside of protected reasons, whether or not an individual receives a vaccine is a personal choice.
NSCA Accountant Courtney Kerkman contributed to this article.