Employers Are Thinking Again about Vaccinations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and President Biden himself are imploring people to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Delta variant spreads more quickly and easily than the previous strains, and there are now cases where vaccinated individuals are testing positive. The NFL is placing more onus on teams to remain healthy, including forfeiting games and fining teams. Private colleges are insisting on vaccinations, and if you want to go to Canada on August 9th or thereafter, you must be vaccinated. Leaders from both political parties are now urging vaccinations.

All of this is causing employers to reconsider their vaccination programs. Some hospitals are now requiring all staff to be vaccinated. One found that once they required the vaccination, the number of staff vaccinated jumped from 85% to 98%, with the remaining unvaccinated employees having a medical reason for not being vaccinated. While this may not be a popular decision when implemented, it is often effective, as the numbers show.

Employers contemplating a vaccine mandate should consider any state laws that prohibit it. Six states have either executive orders or legislation that do not allow state or local government to require proof of vaccination. Arizona has an executive order that bans so-called “vaccine passports” and prevents state and local governments from requiring citizens to provide their COVID-19 vaccination status to receive service or enter an area. Private employers in Arizona are not subject to the executive order.

Interviews with those who were slow to get vaccinated are interesting. It seems those who were initially hesitant received it because friends were all getting vaccinated and doing fine, their doctor convinced them, or they were unable to continue working or have access to places like Canada without the vaccine.

If an employer is not subject to state laws, there are essentially three levels of enticement for those who would like their employees to be vaccinated:

Encourage – those who encourage will have communication about the benefits of being vaccinated. This might include a message from other employees who have been vaccinated, are doing well, and appreciate the vaccine’s protection.

Incent – those who incent employees may pay for time off to get vaccinated or offer incentive pay of some type. (Time off may be required by state law; both Arizona and Colorado have paid leave laws that allow employees paid time off for preventative care, including time for vaccinations, and this would be a valuable piece of any level of employer communication in these states.)

Require – those who require it must understand that if there is a medical reason an employee cannot, the employee will need to be accommodated. The method for accommodation may vary on a case-by-case basis.

If you are an employer who needs help navigating this, understand your legal limits and look to other employment practices for ideas. Employers Council staff is happy to help members with guidance about vaccination communication or vaccine programs.