Five Ways to Talk to Your Employees Now About COVID-19 Vaccines

14 December 2020 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog
Author(s): Rachel Powitzky Steely

One of the most pressing questions regarding COVID-19 vaccines is whether employers may require employees to be vaccinated. Employees are understandably anxious and employers have not yet received much information from the government on potential guidance regulating vaccines in the workplace. 

Here are five ways to discuss COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace now, before the vaccines are more widely distributed to the public in 2021.

1. Educate your workforce on the COVID-19 vaccines. The amount of conflicting information on COVID-19 vaccines is staggering. Take the time to send out vetted facts to employees from the FDA and official sources. Encourage employees to speak to physicians about concerns.

2. Slow Down. The COVID-19 vaccine is not currently available to the general public and will not be widely available for several months. Take the time to calm down employees, while being sympathetic to their concerns. Talk about fears and issues surrounding the refusal to take a COVID-19 vaccine. If your company has an EAP program, distribute information regularly.

3. Recognize exceptions to mandatory vaccines. Even if you are considering a requirement that employees be vaccinated, it is important to remember that many individuals may not be subject to a mandatory vaccine policy. For example, persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act may be exempt from vaccination requirements. Therefore, it is important for companies to engage in the interactive process early to determine whether reasonable accommodations are necessary. And some employees may be exempt for religious purposes. 

4. Executives should start discussing the ramifications of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines. Employees want to know now if the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory, but before the company issues a policy, several considerations exist, such as:

  • Will the company pay for the vaccine?
  • If employees refuse to take the vaccine, will they be fired?
  • Will employees refusing to take the vaccine be allowed to work at home while others are required to come to work?
  • If employees have reactions or side effects, will the company compensate them for time off to recover?

5. Celebrate!  We now see a light at the end of the tunnel. The pandemic has lingered much longer than anticipated, causing increased anxiety and stress. Redirect vaccine stress to a (virtual) celebration of the world’s achievements in combating the disease and the likelihood that next year we will have holiday parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations with friends and family.

In the end, COVID-19 vaccines are a great accomplishment and will hopefully allow us to get back to normal life. Employees and companies are hyper-focused on how to resume their prior activities. With a little planning and communication before the vaccines are widely distributed, companies can help ease the transition back to work.

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