Employers have played a large role in guiding their employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic since it’s inception in the United States last March. In many ways, employees have looked to employers for guidance on safety regulations and other mandates instilled by the government on both state and federal levels. Now, as the two FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna continue to reach U.S. citizens, employers must decide how to handle the vaccine rollout within the workplace.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), COVID-19 meets the direct threat standard, which means it poses a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of those in the workplace when exposed. Because of this, it has been deemed legal for private companies and employers to require their employees to be vaccinated. However, the EEOC reiterated in its guidelines that each recipient of the vaccine has the option to refuse or accept the vaccine. Although the option to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all employees within specific workplaces is viable, there are risks that come with it.
Risks of Requiring Mandatory Inoculation
There are some businesses in high-risk industries that might consider mandating the vaccine for their employees who are more regularly at risk of contacting and transmitting the disease. For example, those working close together manufacturing facilities and prison systems are at higher risk than those working in an office building, where social distancing and mask wearing are more easily achieved.
If employers do proceed with mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, there is a risk of employer liability. Employers should account for anti-discrimination protections as they rollout their vaccination plans. This includes rolling out the program in a non-discriminatory approach, requiring employees with similar roles and duties to be vaccinated. In addition, if employers plan to require only a specific group of employees to be vaccinated, there must be non-discriminatory reasons justifying the difference in exceptions. Employers must also ensure they are sharing factual, reliable information about the vaccine. This includes relying on trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to educate employees on the vaccination, how it works, and the expected side effects. Any employer mandating the vaccine must accommodate all employees with an identified disability or sincerely held religious beliefs.
Encouraging Employees to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
If you opt out of mandating the vaccine, the next best thing is to encourage vaccination. The best thing leaders can do to show the importance of the vaccine is to lead by example and get it themselves. Leaders could do this by sharing a testimonial video or providing verified and factual information about how the vaccine is made and why it works. Pointing to scientific research and reminding employees that the vaccine has gone through rigid screening processes before being approved by the FDA can ease concerns among employees, without putting the organization at risk of liability. Incentives can also provide encouragement to get vaccinated among employees. Cash incentives, paid time off, and other legal incentives that are anti-discriminatory and don’t result in peer pressure are good alternatives to mandating the vaccine.
Considering the Risk
When considering whether or not to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine in the workplace, many employers are seeking guidance from risk management teams, like RiskVersity. For the best guidance on the topic, please contact us.