In recent weeks, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for certain vaccines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While recognized as an important step in easing the global pandemic, the vaccine creates an opportunity—and a conundrum—for employers. We’ve previously considered whether employers can and should mandate that employees take the vaccine in states that allow for such a requirement.
Whether a business ultimately decides to require vaccines or to leave it up to employee choice, being prepared to manage the process is the first step to a successful operation.
There may be a number of reasons why employers want or need to know which employees have been vaccinated. For example, if a business’s customer has a requirement that only vaccinated personnel are allowed on site, the business will need to know who is eligible for an assignment at that location. Employers are permitted to ask employees if they have been vaccinated (and if they have had the two required doses of the currently available vaccines) and to ask employees for documentation. Most vaccine providers do provide documentation relating to the shot, and this should be readily available to the employee. One area of caution, however: employers should avoid digging too deep into other health inquiries so as to not run afoul of other employment laws relating to discrimination and disability. For example, if an employee states their health provider has instructed them against getting vaccinated, management should not ask why the employee cannot receive the vaccine or ask questions regarding the employee’s underlying health condition. Likewise, the employer should remind employees not to provide vaccination documentation that contains the vaccine recipient’s personal medical information. Once the employee provides the documentation, management must store it in a secure location, separate and apart from the employee file, similar to other medical records.
The vaccines currently authorized in the United States require two doses, given a few weeks apart. For any business with more than a few employees, tracking this can become an administrative burden. There are a number of ways to maintain this information, but whatever method a business chooses, it is best to plan ahead and start documenting at the beginning—playing catch-up not only makes it harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming, it also creates more room for error.
One way is to make a simple chart, updated regularly. This should include the employee’s name, work location or unit, date of the vaccine(s) and, if applicable, whether the employee has been excused from a mandatory vaccination program. Employers should not track or document the reason for the exclusion on the tracking form—that should be managed separately through the Human Resources Department. This information should be saved in a secure location with access limited to those with a need to know. The business should identify in advance the personnel who will collect and enter the data, and review carefully to make sure the data is entered accurately.
Online tools are becoming increasingly available to help employers track immunizations. Electronic record management solutions can simplify the process and can be particularly helpful in larger organizations. Some document management services offer additional features, such as reminders for follow-up doses and letting employees self-report and upload documentation, lessening the administrative burden. While these “smart” features may be helpful, it remains the employer’s duty to be sure that the software selected is appropriately secure and that the information will remain accessible to the business.
Plus, the selected systems must comply with all applicable data privacy laws. In addition, access to the system must be restricted to appropriate personnel. With great power to easily track information comes great responsibility, and the electronic tracking tools should be selected and maintained carefully and in a compliant manner.