As COVID-19 vaccinations are increasingly available worldwide, many employers wonder if they can insist upon or encourage their employees to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their colleagues, their clients and help get the workplace to return to something approaching normal. Creating a COVID vaccination policy can help you and your employees to navigate this issue together.
Table of contents
What to consider before creating an employee vaccination policy
Vaccines have become a divisive topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people don’t believe in any vaccinations at all, while others are wary about these particular vaccines due to the short turnaround time in their production and reports of side effects.
A survey by employment and labor firm Littler Mendelson PC found that 43% of employers are unsure about whether they will require their employees to be vaccinated. Of these respondents, almost 80% cited employee resistance as the reason not to mandate vaccines. Other factors included a perceived negative impact on organizational morale and corporate culture and potential legal issues.
But many employees want vaccines.
A recent CNBC survey found that 57% of Americans believed that workplaces should insist on mandatory vaccinations.
Another survey by Glassdoor found that 23% of employees would consider quitting their jobs if they are required to return to working in the office before their colleagues have been vaccinated.
Conversely, a report from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 28% of employees would rather lose their jobs than getting vaccinated.
The Glassdoor survey also found that 70% of employees felt that employers should offer their staff incentives such as paid time off or cash bonuses to get vaccinated.
This illustrates how fraught the topic is, and why you will need to proceed very carefully in deciding whether or not to implement a vaccine policy and then in the way you communicate these requirements or recommendations to employees.
Questions to ask when creating a COVID vaccination policy
Before you begin developing your employee vaccination policy, you should consider these questions:
1. Why would we want to ensure employees are vaccinated?
There are many reasons why companies might insist on or strongly encourage their employees to be vaccinated. This includes the nature of the work being undertaken by your employees, the nature of your key clients and other relevant stakeholders, what risks are posed with non-vaccination, whether employees can perform their jobs without being vaccinated.
2. Can we mandate vaccines for our employees?
Maybe. This is something that is not uniform across the world. In some jurisdictions, companies have the right to require that their employees are vaccinated. In others, it isn’t so clear and may be considered a form of workplace discrimination. Before insisting on mandatory vaccines via a COVID vaccination policy, you should seek legal advice.
Many employers are deciding against policies that require mandatory vaccines and are instead building policies that strongly encourage employees to be vaccinated, such as providing them in the workplace, paying for them, providing educational material about the vaccines and giving time off to be vaccinated.
3. What happens if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?
In the USA, all employers who require employees to be vaccinated need to ensure that their policies comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act and any other relevant workplace laws. Many employees may have a health and safety reason not to take the vaccine, and any disciplinary action taken against them may be unlawful. There are similar laws in place in other jurisdictions, so you need to be certain of what legal standing you have.
In general so long as an employer is providing lawful and reasonable directives to their employees, the employee may find themselves in breach of their employment contract if they refuse to comply.
4. What sort of proof of vaccination can be requested?
Again, this will depend on where you are located, but most health authorities will provide some sort of proof of vaccination to the vaccine recipient. For example, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a paper card to everyone who is vaccinated that can be used to provide evidence of vaccination status.
5. Who will pay for the vaccine?
This varies again according to where you live. In many parts of the world, vaccines are free, provided by the government. In other places, people wanting to be vaccinated will have to pay out of their own pockets. To encourage as many people as possible in your workplace to be vaccinated, you should consider paying for the vaccine or at least subsidizing it as part of your COVID vaccination policy.
6. Are employees able to get vaccinated in your jurisdiction?
It may be a moot point to insist on vaccines in some parts of the world right now anyway. There are ongoing issues with vaccine shortages, poorly implemented roll-outs of vaccines, staged eligibility scheduling and so on. Your employees may not yet be eligible for the vaccine, and even if they are, there may not be any available.
Still, it is better to be prepared and start working on a policy that you can implement as soon as vaccine eligibility and supply in your location settle down.
How to create an employee vaccination policy
When you are developing your employee vaccination policy, you need to consider a range of factors:
- What is expected of the industry you work in? When your employees work in roles that interact with members of the public – particularly vulnerable people, such as the elderly – vaccinations might be critical.
- Would vaccines be required for all staff or just those who come into contact with other people?
- Are vaccines required before employees go back to the office or travel for work?
- If vaccines aren’t mandatory, what steps will you take to encourage them in the workplace?
- What do your local and state laws say about this subject?
To make it easier to develop a workplace vaccination policy, we’ve created a free template you can access here.
The importance of effectively communicating your COVID vaccination policy
Communication is essential when you require employees to do something, or you need to raise awareness. Whether you have a mandatory vaccine requirement or you simply want employees to be empowered to get the vaccination, communication to employees about the COVID vaccine is a major part of that battle.
1. Survey your employees
This step can be undertaken as you’re preparing your employee vaccination policy but should also form the beginning of a vaccination communication campaign. Send simple pulse surveys to your employees to gauge how they feel about COVID-19 vaccinations. If your employees are largely supportive, your communications tasks will be less challenging. But if you know there is a lot of dissent or objection to the vaccine among your employee cohort before you begin your communications, you can tailor your approach from the beginning and not waste time.
2. Educate about facts
Vaccination can be an emotive issue and as an employer, you may not want to get involved in arguments with anti-vaxxers in the workplace. At the same time, these objectors could serve to undermine your internal communications efforts by spreading misinformation which can cause fear and panic. Stick to the facts about the vaccine, and source your information from reputable sources such as your local health authorities.
3. Engage relevant leaders within the company
You may have seen vision on the news of world leaders rolling up a sleeve to get their COVID-19 jab. The reason for this isn’t so that they can be first in line: they have been doing this because the optics of them receiving the vaccine is designed to help encourage other people to do so. You can engage the leadership team in your organization to take a similar approach. Show your employees that your senior leaders believe in the vaccine and consider it to be safe.
4. Communicate clearly and concisely
Health information can be complex. If you want employees to comply with directives to vaccinate, you need to make the information as easy as possible to understand. It should be written clearly in plain language and be as concise as possible.
5. Communicate regularly using different channels
You need to be prepared to communicate many times, in different ways, to ensure that the messages about your vaccination policy are cut through and employees know about and understand it.
Regular communications about different aspects of the COVID vaccination policy, including reminders, can be sent to employees in different ways. When you use DeskAlerts channels such as pop-ups and tickers, or visual content such as videos, screensavers, digital signage, corporate wallpaper and lock screen alerts you can conveniently schedule all this content to be deployed to your target audience at the time of your choosing using one software system.
6. Develop FAQs and other resources
Create a centralized location on your intranet where you can publish all relevant information about your workplace vaccination policy. This can include fact sheets about the vaccine, FAQs, information about where to get the vaccine, reimbursements and so on.
COVID-19 continues to present new challenges for workplaces to navigate. Vaccines offer hope that the world might be able to get back to normal again soon. For employers, vaccines have the potential to ensure safe and healthy workplaces as we come out on the other side of the pandemic.