Vaccine distribution is well underway, but employers are grappling with the myriad of legal and operational issues involved with having staff inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine. Despite ready access to the vaccine, healthcare facilities are being met with resistance from staff to get vaccinated.
Legal Guidelines Around Vaccinations
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance regarding employers’ ability to enact mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies. EEOC guidance clearly states that employers are legally permitted to mandate that employees get inoculated, provided that they make certain accommodations for disabilities and religion under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII. However, employers may deny accommodation where there is no available alternative that would alleviate the “direct threat” posed by an unvaccinated employee. In such situations, employers are expected to make a determination whether there is a reasonable accommodation available (i.e. working remotely, leave of absence) that would not pose an undue hardship as an alternative to termination. Although the legal right to compel employees to vaccinate is significant in framing conversations that will occur in workplaces across the country, what one can do and what one should do may be very different.
Workforce Reluctance To Get Vaccinated
Whether staff resistance is based on media spin, conspiracy theories, social media banter or other sources of information or misinformation, the reality is that a wide segment of the workforce is reluctant to get vaccinated. Willingness to participate will likely increase with the turnover in Washington and as vaccination proves to be safe and effective for those who take it. For the time being, though, this will be a serious challenge for employers—specifically those in healthcare. Institutions like hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, for example, are eager to bring back visitation, group dining, activities and religious services, which significantly enhance patients’ lives. Since herd immunity through widespread vaccinations are largely perceived as the only way to achieve these goals, there is a strong desire to get as many healthcare facility workers and office staff vaccinated as soon as possible. On the other hand, posing an ultimatum to employees whereby they will be excluded from the workplace unless they are inoculated may result in severe staffing shortages, lawsuits and workers compensation claims, not to mention animosity and resentment from staff members.
Dispelling Myths Around the Vaccine
Open and honest conversations along with fact-based education campaigns for staff are key steps to dispelling propaganda and explaining to employees why it makes sense for them to consider getting vaccinated. If vaccination rates remain low, consult with appropriate legal counsel to review your company-specific considerations (i.e. office size, nature of business operation, physical layout, staff makeup) and any other countervailing legal concerns to develop a strategic health & safety plan.
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