The coronavirus has changed much about the workplace. Even companies in areas that weren’t as hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic have seen business practices change. Those in harder-hit areas may have been forced to close or may have lost a lot of potential profits. For employees, more people than ever before have been working remotely. When that’s not possible, employees have had to take extra health and safety precautions, including taking time out of their work to clean and sanitize in order to stay safe at work.
Who Can Get the Vaccine?
The highest priorities for getting the vaccination are frontline healthcare workers, emergency first responders, adults who live in long-term care facilities, and adults who have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk. Most states are also prioritizing based on age, with older adults considered a higher priority than younger ones.
As of February 2021, many states had the vaccine open only to those 60 or older or who were otherwise high priority. This means that it may be some time until all of your company’s employees are eligible to receive the vaccine. However, as more and more people get vaccinated, it’s important for HR to develop a plan now for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Should the COVID-19 Vaccine Be Mandatory?
One of the questions HR must consider is whether to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for returning to work in the office. The EEOC and OSHA have, as of writing, not yet released guidance pertaining specifically to requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the EEOC recommended that employers covered under the ADA recommend that employees be vaccinated instead of making it mandatory.
It can be tempting to require that every employee be vaccinated against the coronavirus. However, it’s important to keep in mind that some employees may not be able to get the vaccine due to a medical condition or disability. Some employees may object to the vaccination on religious grounds. HR should consult with the company’s legal team when determining what exemptions must be allowed.
Plan for Employees that Don’t Want to Get Vaccinated
Some employees may decline to get the COVID-19 vaccination even if they’re not eligible for an exemption. Employees that did get vaccinated or that couldn’t due to a genuine exemption may not feel comfortable working with people who chose not to be vaccinated. HR must decide what to do with employees that aren’t vaccinated for whatever reason. In some cases, maintaining pandemic safety practices such as masks and social distancing may keep employees safe while allowing for legitimate exemptions. In other cases, however, employees that refuse to get the vaccine may need to be fired.
Offer Incentives to Boost Vaccination Rates
It’s important for as many employees as possible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The available COVID-19 vaccines can greatly reduce the risk of contracting the disease. In those vaccinated who get sick anyway, the symptoms are also much milder. The more people have the vaccine, the lower the risk of the coronavirus spreading around the office.
Some incentives your company could offer to encourage vaccination include:
- Offering time off to get vaccinated
- Covering costs associated with vaccination
- Offering vaccines on-site
- Extra PTO
Many employees will get the vaccine no matter what. Others may have a medical or religious exemption. Still other employees may be reluctant for other reasons and incentives may help encourage them to get the vaccine.
Time off to both get the vaccine and to deal with the side effects of the vaccine could help employees who want the vaccine but don’t have time. Some people experience mild symptoms from the vaccine, but these symptoms can last for up to three days.
Decide if Current Safety Measures Should Remain
COVID-19 has changed the way many companies do business. Some companies have shifted to remote work for some, if not most or all, employees. Others have established mask policies and social distancing. Some of these safety measures may not be necessary once your employees have been vaccinated. It’s up to HR to determine what policies will remain in place.
Remote work may be a good policy to keep. Many employees may expect it and may leave the company if they can’t continue working remotely. Other policies, such as social distancing and wearing masks, may need to continue as well if a number of employees remain unvaccinated. Even if all of your employees have been vaccinated, you should follow CDC guidelines regarding wearing masks and social distancing until the CDC guidelines change.
Communicate COVID-19 Plans to Employees
Once a plan has been made, it’s important to communicate it clearly with employees. Everyone needs to know exactly what is expected of them. Some who have received the vaccination may otherwise not know that they need to continue wearing a mask and social distancing. They also need to know how to apply for an exemption and what the consequences may be if they aren’t exempt but still choose not to vaccinate.