February 22, 2021 - 3 min read
Addressing vaccination policies for employees
Integrating vaccine plans and policies into long-term planning
With the increase in COVID-19 vaccinations and reduction in new cases, more businesses in California will be able to return to in-person operations. Before we reach herd immunity, businesses of all sizes will have to make difficult decisions about returning to work with employees who may opt out of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Blue Shield of California is encouraging its members and employees to get the vaccine when they are eligible. We also recognize vaccine hesitancy exists, more so in some populations than others, and some individuals may not get vaccinated for health reasons.
To help navigate this complex challenge, here are some factors to consider when setting guidelines for employee vaccination.
Prepare for vaccine hesitancy and educate employees
Even with increased production through the spring and summer, more vaccine doses may not correlate with increased public adoption. While the number of people indicating they will get the vaccine is increasing, about a quarter of the general public remains hesitant.
Employers can play an important role in educating employees. Studies show employees trust information from their employers over information from the government. Our recent article goes into depth about the drivers and implications of vaccine hesitancy and provides further guidance for employers.
No one-size-fits-all solution, so stick to the basics
Essential versus non-essential, office cubicles versus restaurant kitchens, personal preference versus religious exemptions – diversity defines the workplace. In turn, prepare for accommodations to any vaccine policy with a tailored, multifaceted approach matching the business and workforce while taking into account legal compliance considerations.
Increased-risk situations are not limited to intra-office contact. How and when employees interact with customers or the general public are also factors with any vaccination policy, as an unvaccinated employee is more likely to fall sick, increasing the risk of transmission with coworkers.
A good place for employers to start is the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on this topic released in December 2020 (see section “K. Vaccinations”). This guidance covers some of the basics, offering answers to common accommodation concerns, specifics like what vaccination status questions employers are allowed to ask, and more.
Consult legal counsel – frequently
Blue Shield does not provide legal counsel on COVID-19 vaccinations to our employer groups. But we do encourage employers to seek legal counsel when considering any policy, requirements, or actions regarding vaccines, staying informed as legal requirements evolve and new precedents are established.
One legal consideration is whether an employer can require employees to be vaccinated. This question has implications under both state and federal law that employers will want to consider in consultation with their legal counsel. Employment regulations regarding compensation and time off of work are another factor in the mix – certain classes of employees may need to be paid or provided with leave for time spent waiting and receiving the doses, or for missed work due to vaccine side effects.
Plan for the long term
Current state and federal projections are for a large percentage of the population to be vaccinated by early fall. This timetable, paired with the unknown factors of COVID-19 variant strains, mean that the battle against COVID-19 may continue for some time. Meanwhile, it is still vital employers continue enforcing the basics such as mask-wearing, limiting travel, maintaining social distance as much as possible, and frequent handwashing.
Integrating vaccine plans and policies into long-term planning can prepare a business for the next phase of the pandemic and the twists and turns that lay ahead.
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