Considerations to Keep the Vaccine from Becoming Your Next Crisis
Vaccine distribution is underway in the US to vulnerable populations, and federal health officials estimate that anyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get one sometime between April and October. This brings important questions for employers who have already returned to at least partial in-person operations, or who plan to in the near future.
To Mandate or Not to Mandate, That is (One of) the Question(s)
Two-thirds (66 percent) of employers say that COVID-19 vaccination is “very or somewhat necessary” for business continuity, as reported by the Society of Human Resources. Their research also reveals that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. employees “fear that the return to the workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety.”
Statistics like these, and internal research, have many employers asking:
“Can we mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person employees?”
The short answer is yes, U.S. employers can require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and can tell them to stay away from the workplace if they don't, based on guidance that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission put out in mid-December. (We’ll leave the explanations on this rationale to the legal experts, of which there are many online.)
So while yes, employers can mandate, the question that remains, is should employers mandate the vaccine? Here are some of the considerations that factor into determining if a vaccine mandate is the right path.
Mandating the vaccine:
- Protect your team, and your clients. Experts overwhelmingly say that COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective medical strategy to prevent the transmission of the virus and save lives.
- Ensure continuity of operations. Depending on your internal policies, a single positive COVID-19 can stop operations and force all or portions of the company to return to remote work.
- Mitigate the risk of a crisis.
- Keep your brand name out of the headlines. For those in retail, restaurant, hospitality and service related industries, a customer contracting COVID-19 through your team can be a PR nightmare, a highly vaccinated workforce reduces this likelihood.
- Defend against possible civil liability for COVID-19 cases. While best discussed with your legal team, under tort law, organizations have a responsibility to protect employees and customers. As vaccination rates increase, if your workforce is under-vaccinated, infected individuals may look to pursue legal action against organizations that they feel didn’t do enough to mitigate on-premise exposure.
- Reduce absenteeism. Obviously, a vaccinated workforce will be less likely to contract and spread COVID-19, imposing fewer costs from absence, and lost productivity.
Not mandating the vaccine:
- Employee morale and retention. Depending on your corporate culture, and employees attitudes, some “mandates” can be met with resistance. There are those who, due to pre-existing conditions, cannot receive the vaccine, and some who may cite religious, personal, or political views or other reasons for refusing the vaccine. Understanding how your team may respond to a mandate, can help you determine if a mandate would do more harm than good for your organization.
- Reduce Human Resources responsibilities. With a mandate comes the need for documentation of compliance, putting stress on the HR team to maintain these records, and then document on a thoughtful, case-by-case basis of who may qualify for an exemption, and determining how to proceed with individuals who have them.
- Mitigating the risk of a (different) crisis. For those who seek an exception from a mandate, and are denied, they may become vocal internally, on social media, seek media attention, or even pursue a legal claim of discrimination.
- If you decide not to mandate the vaccine, consider incentives for employees who receive the vaccine, options include additional paid time off, gift cards, or contributions to their health savings account if your organization supports them.
- Local, state and federal laws and guidelines will likely change over the coming months, keep an eye on these factors and adjust accordingly.
- Make sure your HR team has reviewed all current policies to ensure any new guidelines comply with terms of employment and do not create contradicting policies.
To ensure you’re selecting a path that works best for your organization, your team, and your clients/customers, facilitating conversations surrounding the policy you are considering for the vaccine, can provide insight not only into how a vaccine mandate may be received, but how to message the decision internally, and externally.
Regardless of the path you choose, messaging is critical to getting buy-in and compliance. Being transparent and managing all expectations can mitigate resistance, and disagreement on the direction.
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