A few months ago, President Joe Biden proposed a mandate for private businesses with 100 employees or more ask their workers to either submit proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing starting Jan. 4.
Quickly, business leaders turned to the internet to begin understanding how the news might affect them. What’s the best way to determine if employees have received COVID-19 vaccinations? What are the rights of an employer and of employees in this landscape? How do leaders navigate pandemic recommendations while ensuring that they retain top talent?
Though no mandate has yet gone into effect, now is the time to begin crafting a plan for how your organization will handle future vaccination guidelines. To get started, here are a few key considerations.
1. What are your legal rights as an employer?
Anti-discrimination laws don’t prevent companies from requiring their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the workplace, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Nevertheless, companies do need to consider reasonable accommodations for employees who choose not to get vaccinated because of religious or medical reasons. Under Title VII, businesses should trust that requested exemptions are based on sincere religious or medical reasons, and they should consider all available accommodations, such as work-from-home opportunities. The only exception is if an employer can prove that providing an accommodation would cause “undue hardship,” defined as a significant cost on the business.
For companies considering on-site vaccination clinics, the recommendations get more complicated. There’s a limit on the incentives that businesses can offer in exchange for workers voluntarily receiving a coronavirus vaccine administered by the company. The limit does not apply to companies that encourage employees to voluntarily receive a coronavirus vaccine by an independent, third-party healthcare provider.
2. What are your employees’ rights, in accordance with HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prevents covered entities from sharing sensitive patient information without the patient’s consent.
In other words, a healthcare provider can’t disclose a patient’s vaccination status to an employer without the individual’s explicit permission. However, it does not prohibit employers from asking if someone is vaccinated against COVID-19 or requesting documentation.
If companies request proof of vaccination, they must still protect the confidentiality of that medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including by storing it separately from the employee’s other personnel files.
3. How should you determine if your employees are vaccinated?
Regardless of your legal right to ask, it can still feel intrusive. A recent survey by Vistage Worldwide found that only seven percent of CEOs said COVID-19 vaccines were not an issue for their organizations, as their workforces were either fully vaccinated or fully remote. The remaining 93 percent shared a wide range of responses that captured the uncertainty CEOs face in their decision-making.
When it comes to addressing COVID-19 vaccinations, there are no best practices for companies yet. Leaders must consider the unique realities of their businesses, industries, cultures and teams to craft strategies that follow local and federal guidelines while ensuring that their employees feel valued. After all, companies nationwide are facing a tough hiring market and can’t risk alienating a portion of their workforce with their vaccination communications.
As with any strategy, your approach to vaccines should be grounded in intensive research. First, take the time to listen to your employees’ circumstances, such as through an anonymous survey. What percentage are already vaccinated? Consider partnering with a strategic third-party partner for this step. An outside perspective can gather the information you need to craft a vaccination campaign that will land with your team.
If you’re not sure where to start, RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy is here to help. Contact our Pack today.