The COVID-19 Delta variant has fueled one of the most powerful coronavirus surges to date, forcing employers to again consider mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations to keep their workforces safe. Some of the nation’s largest companies (Google, Facebook, Wal-Mart, and Disney) have led the charge in putting a vaccine mandate in place. Even with the rise in hospitalizations and deaths for those not vaccinated, employers are still reporting hesitancy and frustration when it comes to requiring their employees to get vaccinated.

Whether considering a vaccination mandate or additional ways to provide employee incentives, here are some steps employers can take to improve workforce vaccination percentages:

1) Vaccine Committee

Convene a committee to suggest and develop recommendations for your business. This committee should either be comprised of, or receive input from, human resources and workplace safety. The committee can serve as a central point of contact for the company program and assist in implementing the development and rollout of your plan. The committee can also assist in educating employees about the vaccine. They can direct traffic and assist employees who choose to get the vaccine on how to sign up for vaccinations, identify vaccine locations, or sign up for a government registration.

2) Effective Education Campaign

Worries over contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine, and other safety concerns, are often based on inaccurate articles or even misinformation. You can help ease some of this apprehension by providing material from the federal, state or local health authority or local healthcare organizations. Accurate information and clarifications will 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 and about its efficacy are more likely to get vaccinated. In providing access to helpful information, be mindful that employees place much more confidence in information from established healthcare authorities than material from political figures. 

3) Vaccine Incentives

Any worker who can prove they are fully vaccinated can be rewarded. The most common incentives employers have offered include cash, gifts, or paid time off (PTO). Thanks to clear guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) earlier this summer, companies now have simple directions to ensure they won’t run afoul of discrimination laws when deciding to offer incentives.

4) On-Site Vaccinations

Some larger employers may be able to establish an on-site vaccination center, permitting healthcare personnel on your property to administer the vaccine to your workers and perhaps members of the local community. On-site vaccinations are known to increase vaccination rates and reduce the time your workers would need to spend traveling to a vaccination center. 

5) Plan for Post-Vaccination Issues

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. You should proactively consider how to handle issues that arise as a result. Work with your staff to stagger vaccine appointments – especially the second dose – within departments or units. A staggered schedule can help avoid staffing shortages and keep your operations running.

Employees will be less inclined to get vaccinated if they believe they may have to miss work due to side effects and possibly not be paid or be forced to use their banked PTO. However, most employers are entitled to tax credits for wages paid for leave taken by employees who are not able to work or telework due to reasons related to COVID-19. This includes leave taken to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or to recover from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to the vaccinations. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act alleviates employees from needing to use their own PTO.

6) Keep COVID-19 Workplace Safety Measures Firmly in Place and Implement COVID-19 Testing for the Non-Vaccinated 

The CDC has again revised its guidelines to recommend even those vaccinated wear masks indoors due to the Delta variant surge and the lower-than-desired U.S. vaccination percentages.

Before creating and implementing a policy, work with your workplace safety legal counsel (in conjunction with the latest guidance from the CDC, OSHA, and local health authorities) to determine what you will do if a positive COVID-19 test arises. You should have quarantine and return-to-work protocols in place along with clear contact-tracing guidelines.

You can require those that are not willing to prove vaccination status to comply with additional safety restrictions as necessary to maintain a safe working environment. These can include renewed masking requirements, social distancing rules, restrictions on business-related travel, and other plans relevant to your work environment.

7) Mandate the Vaccine

Many large U.S. corporations have begun mandating workers receive the vaccine as a condition of their employment. While many employers had been hesitant to impose a mandate in the early months of vaccination due to legal implications and the unknown nature of the inoculation process, a series of events have lessened these fears. The Department of Justice’s announcement that the Emergency Use Authorization status of the vaccines does not prevent employers from mandating them, has greatly alleviated liability concerns for businesses.

While not popular with many employees, mandating the vaccine may be the simplest way to ensure workplace safety for your entire business. However, steps must be taken to ensure success. Have in place a robust and clear, reasonable accommodation policy to address religious and disability issues. Take special care to communicate and administer the accommodation process in a thoughtful way, with emphasis on individualized, confidential consideration of each request. Spend time considering how your employees, customers, and other constituents are likely to respond to the policy, including how you will handle pushback. Anticipate and prepare for certain levels and forms of anxiety and/or resistance.

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