As federal agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, hospitals, and enterprise companies, such as Google and Delta Airlines, turn to employee vaccine mandates, other employers may be looking to do the same. The convergence of the fast-spreading COVID-19 Delta variant cases and bringing workers back to the office has created a situation that requires a response.
Read further for employer resources and tips to mandate vaccines for the return to work.
Are Vaccine Mandates Legal?
They aren't illegal, according to the Justice Department's opinion dated July 6, 2021. Because the vaccine was issued under "emergency use authorization," the law "does not prohibit public or
private entities from imposing vaccination requirements for a vaccine that is subject to
an emergency use authorization." Although the department has yet to issue any rules or guidance, OSHA can still cite employers who fail to protect employees from harm and/or fail to provide a safe workplace.
What About Those Who Have Disabilities or Religious Reasons to Oppose the Vaccines?
In May 2021, the EEOC issued updated guidance with regards to vaccine requirements and how they intersect with "reasonable accommodations" practices under the ADA (medical concerns) and Title VII (religious beliefs). It also covers confidentiality requirements and best practices for employees to request accommodations. The same guidance also states that employers may require someone with a disability to meet the vaccine standard if it is "job-related and consistent with business necessity."
Is There Available Guidance for a Workplace Vaccination Program?
The Centers for Disease Control has details and steps for implementing a program on their website. It provides resources for encouraging employees to trust the vaccines, best practices for vaccinating employees and avoiding worker shortages due to the effects of the vaccines, and how to handle exemptions. The website also issues guidance for keeping the vaccine records confidential and secure. The SHRM website offers sample templates for issuing mandatory or voluntary vaccination policies within the workplace.
What Options Are There, Other than Mandates?
Businesses and communities are trying to encourage vaccination with incentives such as bonuses, paid time off, fun events or other perks. If employees choose not to get the vaccine, other options include getting tested on a regular basis, wearing masks, social distancing, or working remotely.
Should Employees Return to Work?
The decision to return or not return to work has been on the minds of business leaders since the release of the vaccine. There has been some concern that a hybrid working model might be discriminatory against those who wish to continue to work remotely. Now the uptick in COVID cases and recent CDC guidance for masks while indoors, vaccinated or not, may put that return on pause.
Success depends on the employer and the ability to keep staff motivated and productive. Employees have much higher expectations for their workplaces than they did before. To put it simply, employers can make the return to work worth it if they can keep their staff and customers safe. The way it's looking right now, there may be more vaccine mandates in the weeks to come.