At long last, the COVID-19 vaccines are here. While employers everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief, they are also wondering how to best handle the sticky subject (pun intended) of getting their employees vaccinated and back to work ASAP.
The good news is, many employees appear to want the vaccine. Recent poll numbers indicate that 71% of those surveyed are willing to get vaccinated, up from 65% in late December and the highest number since July.
Despite the imminent widespread availability of vaccines and an increasing likelihood that workers will want to receive the shot, many employers don’t yet have a plan to deal with vaccinating their workforces. Before we know it, it will be time to start bringing people back to work. To do that in the safest and quickest way possible, employers need to start preparing now.
What should employers do now to prepare for the imminent widespread distribution of vaccines?
Develop a vaccine implementation plan now. As Dr. Fauci explained, the number of available doses by March and April will allow for much more of a “mass vaccination approach.” For employers, this increases the likelihood of the mass vaccination of workforces sooner than later. With that in mind, organizations should be preparing right now for how they will encourage employees to get vaccinated so they can safely return to work.
[Ruth Seigel’s “The Ongoing Role of COVID-19 Testing in Business” part of the cover story of this April edition, covers this aspect in greater detail.]
Decide whether to mandate the vaccine. (It’s an employer’s choice.) Employers can make the vaccine mandatory as long as they honor federal anti-discrimination laws. However, most employees are avoiding this option. Instead, they are trying to incentivize employees to be vaccinated voluntarily. The issue of whether to mandate is very industry-specific and employers must take consideration of those who object for health or religious reasons.
Even if employers don’t mandate the vaccine, they can address the potential roadblocks that might prevent employees from being vaccinated and reward employees with a variety of incentives.
Mount an effective vaccine education campaign. While concerns about vaccination side effects are legitimate, worries over contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine — and other safety concerns — are based on inaccurate information. Employers can help ease some of this apprehension by providing accurate information and offering clarifications to address misinformation directly. This includes being as forthcoming as possible about likely side effects and providing information about the benefits of getting vaccinated.
Employees who understand how the vaccine has been tested, its effectiveness and track record are generally more likely to get vaccinated. In providing access to helpful information, employers should be mindful that employees place much more confidence in information from established healthcare authorities rather than material from the vaccine manufacturers or political figures.
Consider whether to will offer on-site vaccinations. Employers of larger organizations may be in a position to establish an on-site vaccination center, permitting healthcare personnel on property to administer the vaccine to their workers and perhaps members of the local community. While doing so would most likely increase the vaccination rates and reduce the time workers would need to spend traveling to a vaccination center, it also raises several legal issues related to premises liability, privacy and more.
Start planning now for post-vaccination issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that it is not uncommon for COVID-19 vaccine recipients to experience side effects, such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, and chills, most often within 24 hours of receiving the second dose of the vaccine. Employers should proactively consider how to handle issues that arise as a result. Employers may choose to avoid scheduling employees to work the day after receiving the second dose or to provide additional paid time off afterward, or consider working with the workforce to stagger the vaccine appointments — especially the second dose — within departments or units.
Don’t ease up on workplace safety measures. According to the CDC, not enough information is currently available to say if or when it will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others once COVID-19 vaccinations become widespread. Thus, even after workers receive their full vaccine doses, employers should continue to require them to adhere to common CDC recommendations until experts better understand the real-world protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide, such as:
- Wearing a mask over nose and mouth,
- Staying at least six feet away from others,
- Avoiding crowds,
- Avoiding poorly ventilated spaces,
- And washing hands often.
Having a well-thought-out vaccination and return-to-work plan for the organization will help employers get back to business quicker, but it also helps the whole country. Employers can play a role in getting more people vaccinated and combatting the pandemic. This is one way to make a difference and help save lives.
Rick Grimaldi is a workplace trends expert and the author of FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. Grimaldi’s unique perspective comes from his diverse career in high-ranking public service positions, as a human resources and labor relations professional for an international high-tech company, and presently in private practice as a partner with Fisher Phillips, LLP, one of America’s preeminent management side labor and employment law firms. Day to day, Grimaldi works with companies to help them adapt to the ever-changing business environment, achieve their workplace goals, and become better employers.
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