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Thinking of Requiring the COVID-19 Vaccine for Your Employees?

2.24.21   

By Jennifer Jacobus, PHRca, SHRM-CP SDEA Director of HR Services.

What about incentivizing your employees to get the vaccine?  While the COVID vaccine is not widely available for most of the population, there is a light at the end of the “vaccine tunnel” for those who are anxious for their turn.

Employers are weighing their options as to whether they will make the vaccine a requirement (EEOC has confirmed that this is permissible) or not while also considering the pros and cons of offering an incentive for employees to get vaccinated.  

The law firm Fisher Phillips conducted a survey which captured over 700 employer responses to questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in their workplaces. The findings of the survey show that 64% of employers are not considering mandating the vaccine, 27% are unsure and 9% are considering mandating their employees receive the vaccine. 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that the majority of U.S. organizations (61%) intend to encourage, but not require, their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination.  

Diving deeper into the question of whether to mandate vaccinations, SHRM reported that more than half of organizations (55%) say they’re unsure whether they’ll require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to the workplace. Four in 10 organizations (40%) won’t insist on a COVID-19 vaccination before an employee returns to the workplace.

Following are a few things to consider in this process:

Mandatory Vaccines

  • Employers will have to consider reasonable accommodations for those employees who can’t/won’t get the vaccine.  Reasons an employer may need to explore an accommodation would be for either religious or medical reasons.
  • Like any interactive process involving an accommodation, employers will have to explore other options as well as the implications to the business if an employee does not get vaccinated.  Some things to consider might be remote work, requiring the employee to continue wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing, moving the employee to a location or an office in the building where they do not have direct contact with others.  As with any other accommodation, “undue hardship” on the business should be a factor when making any employment decisions affecting those who can’t/won’t get vaccinated.
  • SDEA recommends employers consider the implications on the business and how much contact an employee might have with clients/customers as well as co-workers.

Incentives for Employee 

Things can get a bit tricky here.  ADA Wellness program limitations may cause complications:

  • If the incentive program is not voluntary.
  • If the incentive offered is too high.  EEOC states that employees could feel coerced to participate if the incentive is too high and this could lead to a Wellness Program Rules Violation.
  • EEOC proposed a rule allowing only de minimus incentives which was withdrawn by the Biden administration.  However, employers should be aware that the higher the incentive, the higher the risk.  In fact, EEOC used the example of offering a water bottle as an incentive.
  • As with mandatory vaccinations, those employees who can’t/won’t get vaccinated for a medical or religious reason should be offered another way in which they can earn the incentive.  Options may include additional safety training related to COVID.

EEOC has also confirmed that seeking proof of vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry and is therefore permissible.  Employers should stop there however and hold back from delving into questions as to why an employee chose not to get vaccinated.

Before making a decision on what course is best for your business, consider employees’ duties and work setting.  Make vaccines available at no cost to the employee.  Additionally, if the vaccine is a requirement, the employer needs to pay for the vaccine and compensate for the time to get the vaccine.

If you have any questions or need further clarification, please reach out to SDEA at 858-505-0024.

Contact us: 858.505.0024