Protecting Workers: Options for Encouraging or Enforcing COVID-19 Vaccination
As the world begins to reopen post-pandemic, employers are tasked with keeping workers safe. Vaccines are key to public health and moving past COVID-19, but the vaccination effort has encountered significant resistance. In the United States, vaccines are now available to virtually anyone who wants one, but a segment of the population remains opposed to vaccination. This presents a problem for all employers — and manufacturing companies in particular. How can businesses protect workers from potential exposure in facilities with mixed populations of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals?
Employers are left with a simple question: Can I mandate vaccination? The short answer is yes, thanks to regulations established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And there are other ways to promote vaccination. Let’s look at the options.
Vaccine mandates are appropriate for some industries. Food and beverage producers must avoid product contamination — also a major concern for the pharmaceutical industry, which takes its cues on mandatory vaccination from the healthcare sector. There is precedent for manufacturers requiring vaccination, and employers are protected if they act in accordance with anti-discrimination laws.
For those on the fence about vaccination, a recommendation from their employer may be the push they need. Be sure your employees understand that your company’s counsel is not a mandate, and there will be no punishment for refusing vaccination. Consider training sessions to educate your staff about the vaccine. Include information about local health clinics and other facilities that offer vaccination.
If you aren’t comfortable with mandatory vaccination, consider strong encouragement instead. Try offering incentives to vaccinated employees, including paid vacation, time off, or cash payments. It’s a good idea to give employees the day off for their vaccine appointment, since most people experience mild to moderate symptoms after vaccination. Look into mobile clinics that bring vaccines to your workplace. The more appealing — and convenient — vaccination becomes, the higher numbers will climb.
If you have at-risk employees, you may need to enforce vaccination. Consider your policy carefully; enforcement implies consequences for refusal. Set a date by which all employees should be vaccinated. Consult legal counsel to prepare a response to those employees who cite religious or moral beliefs as a reason for exemption. Emphasize vaccination as a strategy for returning to normal and protecting the health and safety of every employee.
Vaccinations are a minefield for employers
Mass vaccinations are uncharted territory for most employers. The right decision is one that protects the health and safety of your employees. Whether you choose encouragement or enforcement, be prepared to explain your position. Navigating the vaccine minefield takes careful thought and planning. Education, incentives, and encouragement are good options, but mandatory vaccination will be necessary for some workplaces. For companies that can’t avoid mandates, consider combining strategies to balance the requirement with some positive reinforcement.