Considerations When Implementing a Vaccine Mandate

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Companies like Disney, Walmart, and Google have made headlines recently for implementing vaccine mandates. Vaccine mandates actually existed well before the emergence of COVID-19. For instance, most universities have required vaccinations against viral diseases like mumps, rubella, and measles for decades.

Mandating a vaccine at the workplace can seem like a no-brainer: it helps keep all employees safe. It obviates the need for masks in the office. Vaccines are overwhelmingly safe, widely accessible, and free. In certain contexts, vaccine mandates might help attract new candidates in a tight labor market.

However, vaccine mandates have become a polarizing issue. Some take the view that vaccine mandates are an encroachment on personal liberty and freedom. For this, and other, reasons, implementing a vaccine at your workplace can be trickier than it might seem. 

If your workplace is poised to implement a vaccine mandate, you’ll want to bear in mind the following exceptions and considerations.

Disability Accommodations

Even if your company does require a vaccine, not everyone in the office might receive it.

Some individuals have refused the vaccine on account of an allergy. In these instances, employers must consider whether reasonable accommodations can be made for their employees, such as allowing them to work from home.

If the employee cannot work from home, employers will need to assess whether an unvaccinated employee poses a “a significant risk of substantial harm that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation,” according to the language of the EEOC. In order to assess the risk, employers need to evaluate its duration, its severity and potential harm, the likelihood that potential harm will occur, and how immediate that harm is. It might be necessary to vary work schedules or duties in order to accommodate those who are unwilling or unable to take the vaccine for legitimate medical reasons.

>> Podcast: Vaccine Mandates and the Safe Return to Work

Religious Accommodations

Title VII requires employers to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs. If an employee requests an exemption from a vaccine mandate for religious reasons, it’s best for employers to assume that the request is made in good faith (unless they have damning evidence to the contrary). So if an employee claims that they have a religious objection to being vaccinated, assume that this is true even if you have your suspicions. Reasonable efforts should be made to accommodate these employees, too.

Timing Considerations

Consider developing a written policy to guide your employees. For instance, the company might want to give employees a day or two off in the event that they experience side effects. It’s a good idea to set a deadline well in advance in order to give everyone the time they need to take both doses of the vaccine if necessary. If your company is instituting a vaccine mandate, make sure that all the employees are given prior notice so that they have ample time to receive both shots if necessary.

Check Your State Laws

Montana has laws against mandating vaccines that have only an emergency use authorization: Illinois, Idaho, and South Carolina are considering similar measures. The governor of Texas prohibits any organization that receives money from the state from mandating vaccination (including hospitals). Make sure that you are up-to-date on the legality of vaccine mandates in your state.

Alternatives to Mandates

It’s worth pointing out that there are other ways to encourage vaccinations rather than relying on a mandate. If a vaccine mandate is untenable in your workplace for any reason, you can still take steps to encourage employees to get vaccinated. These might include:

  • Offering two paid days off to everyone who gets vaccinated, not just those who experience side effects.
  • Making sure that employees are educated about how getting the vaccine will improve their lives in the office.
  • Creating a culture of accountability in the office, for instance, by instituting a mask mandate until all members of the office are vaccinated or making sure that upper management gets vaccinated first and shares their status openly.
  • In workplaces in which the majority of employees are resistant, consider making the mandate take effect after the FDA’s full authorization of the vaccines.

Conclusion

A vaccine mandate might seem like a sensible step to take at your workplace, but its implementation might be trickier than it initially seems. Make sure that you are up-to-date on all state laws and provide reasonable accommodations when necessary. If you are implementing a vaccine mandate, notify your employees well in advance so they can plan accordingly. Even if you can’t mandate a vaccine, you can still take steps to watch out for the safety of everyone at the office.

To learn more about this topic, access our Content Hub: Cororonavirus and HR

Photo Courtesy of Stock Photo Secrets 

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