Can employers require vaccinations?

Written by
Karynn Needel

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When we learned there was a vaccine to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the world rejoiced.  We were closer to the end of this devastating global pandemic.  Life could return to “normal.”

However, many of us learned complexities were just around the corner.  As employers begin returning to offices full time, part-time, or in hybrid or remote workplace models, the issue of vaccines and how to keep employees safe has become increasingly more complicated.

At Insource, we like to approach these challenges for our clients in a way that is as simple as possible so that these already confusing issues can be distilled down into manageable parts.  Most employers know you can require that your employees to be vaccinated.  In some sectors, it is required.  Where it is not required, we see employers struggling with the best approach that balances the needs of the business with the safety concerns of their teams.

Three approaches to help businesses develop protocols for covid vaccines

In general, these are the three most common approaches we see, and we find these buckets the most useful to start with:

Vaccination requirements – Many employers start here and quickly realize that a large number of their employees are not vaccinated. Some employees have medical conditions that would be compromised by getting a vaccine. Some have religious reasons. These and other considerations must be accommodated.  Employers can require documentation to support a request for accommodation. Others have made the personal decision not to be vaccinated now, or ever.  Even so, an employer can make the decision to require vaccines and within legal parameters, request proof of vaccination.  If this requirement becomes a condition of continued employment, those not complying can be terminated.

Voluntary compliance (default to state guidelines) – In this approach, employers do not collect employee proof of vaccination. They share the state of MA guidance and do not require masks or social distancing for employees who are vaccinated, and ask those who have not been vaccinated to mask and socially distance.  This is the easiest approach to administer but can lead to some employees not feeling safe or comfortable in the workplace because of the fact that compliance is voluntary, not mandatory.  What’s more, the employer risks that an unvaccinated employee doesn’t comply and possibly catches or spreads the virus.

Mask-first environment – In this scenario, the employer requires all staff to mask and socially distance unless they choose to show proof of vaccination and be exempted from the policy.  Here, the employer is taking extra precautions, while not dictating behavior.  Employees have options. In this approach, we urge employers to create some norms.  For example, if someone chooses to wear a mask, encourage your employees not to assume the person isn’t vaccinated, nor to judge their decision. The employee could have a sick family member and be taking extra precautions.  The decision not to get vaccinated is personal and the reasons are varied.  Encourage common courtesy and respect. If someone is wearing a mask in a meeting with an employee, maybe the non-masked employees should do a courtesy check with the masked employee to be sure they feel comfortable.

These issues and their implications can create situations unanticipated in the first wave of relief we all felt at a vaccine on the horizon.  For help on navigating the specifics of your situation, we are here to help. Follow us or get in touch today.

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