COVID-19 vaccines present opportunity and challenge to employers
The approval of vaccines for COVID-19 has created new hope in the midst of a pandemic, but also a new complication: As an employer, how do you address the issue of COVID-19 vaccination with your staff?
Make a Plan
“Every employer should create a written plan that includes how you are going to communicate with your employees about vaccination and how you are going to educate them about vaccination,” said Denise Shope, Clinical Risk Manager at RCM&D and former president of the American Society of Health Care Risk Management (ASHRM). “There are good, reliable resources and information out there. Use these resources to develop your vaccination plan.”
Shope recommends employers start by reviewing and sharing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 website and the State of Maryland’s COVID-19 site.
The state has also created a website with COVID-related information and resources for employers. The site is regularly updated and includes information about vaccinations.
“You have to be willing to do some of the research in order to put good information out to your employees,” said Diane Carter, Director of Human Resources at Gray and Son, Inc.
That includes reviewing state and local government sites to determine how employees can register to get a vaccination appointment “and you have to be sensitive to the population demographics of your employees,” Carter said. Those demographics not only influence when an individual can qualify for a vaccination, but where they can get one. For example, to get a vaccination appointment in Baltimore County, the individual must either live or work in the county, she said.
To encourage employees to get vaccinated, assorted companies are already offering incentives. Trader Joe’s, Lidl, Darden Restaurants and others are offering employees paid time off (often four hours) to go get vaccinated.
That incentive may be especially important for construction workers who may need to travel considerable distances from their job site to the approved vaccination site, Shope said. Employers and staff will also need to understand that appointment times may be inconvenient but necessary. “You may not be able to reject an inconvenient time for a vaccination. If you turn down an appointment, you risk landing at the bottom of a long waiting list for another appointment.”
Some companies, Shope said, are also providing employees with paid time off (beyond their regular benefits) in case they experience mild side effects from the vaccine. “There are some people who have experienced recognized mild side effects, especially with the second injection. They may not feel well enough to work and take a day off work.”
Some companies are offering different incentives. Houston Methodist Health System and Dollar General, for example, are offering employees several hundred dollars if they get vaccinated.
Gray and Son has already incorporated COVID-19 vaccination into its wellness program by adding the vaccine to the menu of healthy living initiatives that employees can complete to earn discounts on their healthcare insurance.
Prepare for Complications
Legal experts are already debating whether employers can mandate vaccination “and the court is still [figuratively] out on that issue,” Shope said.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has generally confirmed that employers can require proof that employees have received a COVID-19 vaccination as long as they allow certain exemptions, including for religious beliefs and medical issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Meanwhile, attorneys for the Associated General Contractors of America have advised that contractors can require vaccinations for workers on jobsites.
However, for now, industry leaders say it’s preferrable to encourage and incentivize vaccination rather than mandating it.
It will also be essential to maintain COVID-19 precautions at work even after vaccinations are well underway. Vaccinations are not 100 percent effective. Consequently, a few individuals have already contracted the disease after being immunized. Also, scientists warn that it may be possible for vaccinated individuals to be carriers of COVID-19 and infect other people.
“Employers will need to keep following CDC guidelines on masks and distancing and handwashing, and those guidelines are not going to end until the country reaches herd immunity by immunizing a high enough percentage of people to remove the threat of disease spread,” Shope said.
Scientists estimate about 70% of Americans will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.