COVID-19 vaccine distribution is well underway, bringing with it new challenges. Employers will have to tackle a myriad of legal and operational issues as the COVID vaccine is rolled out. Despite ready access to the vaccine, some healthcare workers are expressing vaccine hesitancy.
Legal Guidelines Around Vaccinations
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidelines for employers enacting mandatory COVID vaccine policies. EEOC guidance states that employers can legally require that employees get inoculated. Employers must make certain accommodations, however,for disabilities and religion under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII.
Despite this, employers can deny accommodations if there’s no other way to alleviate the “direct threat” posed by unvaccinated employees. In such situations, employers must determine whether there is a reasonable accommodation available.
Reasonable accommodations may include remote work, a leave of absence, or any alternative to termination that doesn’t pose an undue hardship. The legal right to compel employees to vaccinate will be debated in workplaces across the country. However, what one can do and what one should do may be very different.
Workforce Reluctance To Get Vaccinated
Vaccine hesitancy can comefrom media spin, conspiracy theories, social media banter, or other sources of information or misinformation. Regardless of the source, the reality is that a wide segment of the workforce is reluctant to get vaccinated.
As policy changes and more and more people get safely vaccinated, there will likely be an increased willingness to participate. For the time being, though, this will be a serious challenge for employers—specifically those in healthcare.
Institutions like hospitals, skilled nursing, and assisted living facilities are eager to bring back visitation, group dining, activities and religious services. These forms of community-building significantly enhance patients’ lives, and have been difficult or impossible during the pandemic.
Herd immunity through widespread vaccinations is largely perceived as the only way to achieve these goals. Therefore, there is a strong desire to get healthcare facility workers and office staff vaccinated as soon as possible. However, posing a vaccination ultimatum may result in severe staffing shortages, lawsuits and workers compensation claims. It may even cause animosity and resentment from staff members.
Dispelling Myths Around the Vaccine
Open and honest conversations along with fact-based education campaigns for staff are key steps to dispelling propaganda. These strategies can help communicate to employees why it makes sense for them to get vaccinated. If vaccination rates remain low, consult with appropriate legal counsel. Review your company-specific considerations (i.e. office size, nature of business operation, physical layout, staff makeup) to develop a strategic health & safety plan.
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