Should employers mandate COVID-19 vaccinations?

Before companies return to work, they must develop a strategy involving rules related to vaccination.
Written by Melanie Wachsman, Editor
Image: iStockphoto/scaliger

COVID-19 vaccinations are becoming the catalyst companies need to return to work. According to the CDC, as of April 2021, more than 150 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

While many employees are accepting the vaccination, literally with open arms, others may opt-out due to fears about compromising their personal health or religious views. 

SEE: COVID Vaccination Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

That's why companies must develop a strategy involving rules related to vaccination—before returning to work. A detailed COVID-19 vaccination policy, like the one from ZDNet's sister site, TechRepublic Premium, outlines guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination requirements for employees and can be customized as needed to fit the needs of your organization.

COVID-19 vaccination policy can also detail what constitutes a "vaccination exempt" employee who elects not to receive the vaccine for religious or medical reasons and what accommodations they can receive, such as private workspaces on-premises or providing personal protection equipment.

Should a COVID-19 vaccination policy mandate that all employees get vaccinated? In the article "What the COVID-19 vaccine rollout means for returning to the workplace," TechRepublic contributor Esther Shein interviewed Debra Friedman, a labor and employment attorney with the law firm Cozen O'Connor, who said that "employers can and should encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but in most industries should not mandate it. Whether an employer encourages or mandates the vaccine [they] must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who refuse to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.

SEE: COVID Vaccination Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

"Employers must be mindful that access to the vaccine varies widely by state, and by locality, both in terms of who is eligible and the available supply. Accordingly, at this point, employers cannot set deadlines for when they expect or encourage employees to be vaccinated."

TechRepublic's R. Dallon Adams reports in "Vaccinated? This is what the CDC guidance could mean for inoculated employees, offices and more" that employers must bear in mind the legal considerations as current employees and prospective candidates choose to be vaccinated or opt-out. 

Adams interviewed Jonathan B. Orleans, an employment attorney at the law firm Pullman and Comley, who said that "employers can mandate employees become vaccinated once their group has access to vaccines while making note of the 'reasonable accommodation' requirements for individuals who decline vaccination due to medical or religious reasons."

In the article, Orleans cautions that "employers should be careful, however, in asking employees why they refuse to be vaccinated. Such inquiries may elicit protected medical information, so they should be conducted under conditions that assure the employee that such information will be kept confidential."

SEE: COVID Vaccination Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

If employers choose not to mandate vaccinations, they can still encourage and incentivize employees to receive one. Shein reports in "COVID-19: Some companies are offering employees incentives to get vaccinated" that according to HRExecutive.com, "One of the ways this will be executed is through financial incentives—companies like Instacart, Aldi, Trader Joe's and Chobani are offering measures such as two hours of pay for each dose they receive, as well as scheduling flexibility for salaried employees and paid time off."

Only time will tell if paid time off is enough of an incentive for employees to get vaccinated. Until then, employers need guidelines in place for tracking both vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees. A COVID-19 vaccination policy can include a section on this and other security precautions companies need to take before opening their doors to all employees. 

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