One year later, COVID is still a problem in the United States, with a death toll of just over one-half million people. The bright spot is the COVID vaccine, which is slowly being distributed around the country. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently reported on how employers should handle their endorsement of the vaccine. Can employers encourage their workers to take the coronavirus shot? Can they mandate it? How should they approach this tricky issue? We have answers.

How to Handle the COVID Vaccine with Your Workforce

SHRM says that two-thirds of U.S. companies say they will encourage their workforce to get the COVID-19 vaccine. According to their data, 64% of working Americans say they are likely to get the vaccine when it becomes available. The number increases to more than three-quarters of workers, if the employer mandates it. But is mandating a vaccine legal?

The answer, according to SHRM, is that a company could mandate the vaccine for all of their workforces. Last December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines that employers could both encourage and mandate the vaccine for their workers. However, there are exceptions. Some state and federal laws exempt employees with a sincerely held religious belief or a disability. The employer must then make a “reasonable accommodation” to allow for this, such as letting the employee work remotely or moving their location within a building.

Human Resource Executive points out that employers can encourage their workforce to seek out the COVID-19 vaccine simply by educating them on the importance of it. Other employers, such as Dollar General, are actually paying employees to get their shot. Yet the article cited a recent poll showing one-third of Americans remain skeptical about the vaccine and plan on skipping it completely.

Education is Key

Employers that take the time to reach out to their workforce and share information on the vaccine, its effectiveness, and how it can help, will go a long way toward reducing these numbers. However, the work to educate your teams starts with frontline managers. Having a conversation with this workforce about why the vaccine matters and how it is safe will start a ripple effect in your company which will continue to trickle down. You are, in effect, creating a party line that will spread around the organization and hopefully turn into a cultural event.

Unfortunately, the issue of mask-wearing and the vaccine has become somewhat politicized. For companies, however, the issue is one of safety and health for your workforce and the customers they serve. It’s a good idea for employers to share regular communications about the vaccine, perhaps with pictures of high-ranking officials receiving their shot, to begin to normalize the process of getting vaccinated. Education of your workforce should be your number one goal. As to whether you should require the vaccine, there are a number of considerations, such as the type of business you are. Employers should be prepared to run across pockets of the workforce that remain skeptical about the vaccine’s efficacy. If this seems to be the case in your company, perhaps a page from Dollar General is in order—Employers could offer employees paid time off to get the vaccine.

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