What does the COVID-19 Vaccine Mean for Companies Throughout the Nation?
In the past week and a half Pfizer and Moderna have announced their COVID vaccines have proven 95% effective.
“It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding,” Fauci told CNN. According to Biopharma Dive, “no vaccine has ever been developed so quickly, never mind manufactured for the world. The goal, at least in the U.S., is have a vaccine ready for use in some fashion by the end of the year, or early next.”
Although doctors suggest the vaccine may not be readily available for general public for several months, business owners are already turning to their Human Resources professional, such as Flex HR, Inc., wondering whether or not they should require their employees to be vaccinated. And if that is legal?
Can Employers Mandate Vaccines?
In short, the answer is yes. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) claims employers can require their staff to get influenza vaccines, for example, but emphasizes that employees “need to be properly informed of the benefits of vaccinations.” Obligatory workplace vaccinations are not a new concept despite the focus of our National conscience. For years employers have included mandatory vaccination programs into their policies and procedures within the company Handbook.
In fact, flu vaccine guidelines have been a part of specific industry policies for a very long time; particularly for healthcare workers. Amy Traub, an attorney with BakerHostetler in New York City, told the Society for Human Resource Management that hospitals and nursing homes in particular have a compelling argument for requiring the COVID-19 vaccine given that their employees interact largely with immunocompromised patients.
According to JacksonLewis, “Neither the EEOC or OSHA has published guidance (yet) on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace; however, currently, both the EEOC and OSHA recommend encouraging, not necessarily requiring, flu vaccines.”
What If An Employee Refuses?
It’s inevitable that some workers are going to reject getting the vaccine. Pushback could be for political or religious reasons, medical concerns or even out of fear. OSHA goes on to explain that “an employee who refuses vaccination because of a reasonable belief that he or she has a medical condition that creates a real danger of serious illness or death (such as a serious reaction to the vaccine) may be protected under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 pertaining to whistleblower rights.” Flex HR, an industry leading full-service HR firm supporting all HR functions, recommends employers take the time to listen to their employees’ concerns. If an individual opposes receiving the coronavirus shot, allow them to provide an explanation for their refusal of the vaccine. This could include justification of their religious beliefs or a note provided from their medical advisor addressing their medical condition and other health risks.
The Civil Rights Act also compels employers to issue a reasonable protective alternative — such as wearing a mask or allowing employees to work remotely (if possible) — in lieu of a vaccine. However, a worker who objected to a vaccine requirement “for moral or political reasons would not be protected,” CNN Business reported. If an employer puts a COVID vaccination mandate into the company policy as a term and condition of employment and an employee refuses to comply, he or she may even be fired if no accommodation can be made.
Before an employer goes to their HR department requesting to add a vaccination policy for their staff, consider these premeditations below when weighing this very controversial decision.
- Is mandating a vaccine policy really necessary or are there other measures your workplace can take first?
- Have you required your staff to wear masks in the office, created more physical distance between working spaces or allowed employees work from home in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
- Encourage employees to get all vaccinations and be sure their vaccinations are up to date to keep themselves and their co-workers safe.
- Employers that decide to put a vaccination policy in place should seek HR expertise in adapting this new requirement.
- Offer flu shots and other vaccinations at no cost to the workforce and even make an on-site location for staff to get during working hours.
Requiring the workforce to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a tough choice for one’s business. The pandemic has undoubtably triggered employers to adapt to an unknowing, changing environment. Jim Cichanski, Flex HR’s CEO notes “I know we will receive more direction as we get closer to arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the past, guidance from OHSA has been to protect your workers and the workplace by allowing employers to demand COVID negative tests before returning to the office. One good piece of advice is to require employees to get tested for COVID. This protocol aligns with providing that safe haven working environment for all staff. Now we await potentially the same type of guidance once the actual vaccine is released.”
When Do Employers Have To Decide?
Employers have quite a few months to make the decision whether or not they will mandate their staff to get the new Coronavirus vaccine. The CDC indicates that the 21 million healthcare workers will be the priority, then followed closely by first responders, teachers, high risk and over 65 years old. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed says, “each state will independently decide, taking account the guidance, who to immunize.” He goes on to say “20 million Americans could be vaccinated by next month.” As employers continue to explore all their policy options, they should remain vigilantly prepared, proceed with caution and obtain expert HR support sooner rather than later.
Flex HR specialists serve thousands of different organizations, in countless industries, with company sizes varying from a few to over 75,000 employees. They offer many levels of services including HR consulting, outsourcing (HRO), compliance, recruiting & talent acquisition, training & development, and onboarding administration.
Flex HR serves almost every industry in all 50 states, including Georgia, Florida, California, North Carolina, and Tennessee, as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada and Europe supporting U.S. subsidiaries of foreign owned companies.
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* Statistics and government guidance are rapidly changing. This is the most updated information as of the morning of 12/1/20. Small business is defined as under 500 employees.