Offices around the world are beginning to reopen as government restrictions around indoor gatherings begin to ease, thanks in part to one of the largest vaccination rollouts in modern history.
Now organizations are left to figure out their own workplace policies around keeping their workplace free of COVID-19, and part of that policy may include requiring – or at least strongly urging – employees to get vaccinated.
Depending on what vertical markets your firm partner with, your employees could be at an increased risk of contracting the virus. Or, your company could be putting others at risk if you don’t have any vaccination policies.
What the research says
Based on two recent studies, the corporate world is relatively mixed on workplace vaccination requirements, largely because doing so means wading into complicated HR policy and legal territory.
However, the studies show that employers are leaning on the safe side and aren’t making vaccinations a mandate to return to work.
According to a Gartner survey of 227 human resources leaders from March, a little less than half said their organizations are actively tracking the vaccination status of employees, and just 8% are requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination before coming back to the office.
The survey also found that 36% of organizations plan to have employees self-report vaccination status, but won’t require proof.
Meanwhile, a May study from Arizona State University found that nearly 90% of 1,300 organizations will at least strongly encourage employees to be vaccinated, but just 40% will require employees to get the vaccine before coming back to the physical workplace.
Just 12% of those respondents said they either don’t have a vaccination plan or don’t plan to require employees to be vaccinated.
Are employees informed?
If your organization isn’t one of the few requiring employees to get the vaccine before coming back to the office, the best course of action appears to be making all of the pertinent information available about COVID-19 and the vaccine to your employees.
ClearTech Media currently doesn’t have a mandate for vaccinations and is instead telling employees to do what makes them comfortable, said Thuy To, the integration firm’s operations manager during a recent NSCA webinar on this very matter.
According to To, some of the company’s employees initially expressed hesitancy to get the vaccine, which was made more complicated due to what she calls a lack of information about how to get the vaccine during the initial rollouts.
The company then began sending out weekly emails to staff about how to get the vaccine.
“I think it made our employees … feel more comfortable about getting it since they knew the whole step from A to Z,” To said.
Linda Villalobos, a human resources consultant with Insperity who joined To on the webinar, said businesses should be able to accommodate any employee regardless of whether they get the vaccine or not.
Employers should build trust with employees and make information available to them, which is strongly encouraging employee vaccination without explicitly mandating it.
For employers that do require vaccinations, there are medical and religious reasons for why a person would choose not to be vaccinated.
“You probably will not have 100% compliance,” Villalobos said.
However, Villalobos cautions employers against removing unvaccinated employees from the workplace.
“Before doing that, I would absolutely recommend talking to an employment attorney,” she says. “It’s a right risk situation.
Can employees stay productive?
Villalobos also notes that such an action isn’t firing an employee. Instead, companies could ask employees to work from home, work off hours or avoid situations that could put them and others at risk.
In industries where workers are at increased risk, like healthcare, that decision is made for them. Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are strongly urged to get the vaccine, and many have secured their own batches of vaccines for employees. Healthcare workers administering care to patients with COVID-19 are typically required to be vaccinated.
However, employers in most other settings can set their own rules, says Peter Zatestkiy, safety services manager at human resources firm Insperity.
“At that point, it really boils down to several questions,” Zaretskiy said during the NSCA webinar.
Those questions are:
- Can our business still work without vaccinated employees
- Can we stay productive?
- What level of service can we deliver to customers?
- Do we put anyone in direct exposure?
- What are we doing to protect ourselves?
Incentivize, rather than mandate
Since requiring your employees get the vaccine risks wading into a touchy subject with that could present some legal hurdles, not to mention the politics surrounding the pandemic, employers should try to avoid a vaccine mandate if they aren’t putting employees or customers in at direct risk of infection.
One way to encourage employees get vaccinated is to incentivize the vaccine, but that doesn’t mean handing out money to workers that get the shot.
Rather, incentivizing the vaccine means allowing employees to get vaccinated during work hours or giving them time off to get the vaccine and recover from potential side effects.
“It’s not going to cost them any money, and they’re going to have permission to miss work to do that,” Villalobos said.
Some companies are giving small gifts out small gifts like water bottles and gift cards as a way of incentivizing vaccinations.
“Incentivizing should be something small and not hugely substantial, but more symbolic,” Villalobos said.