Is It Time To Revisit Your Vaccine or Return-to-Work Policies?

Clark Hill PLC
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As COVID-19 infections spike from the Delta variant, anxiety is likewise spiking for employers and employees alike. The CDC reports that 83% of coronavirus cases stem from the Delta variant. Employers are facing challenges in returning their employees to the workplace and maintaining a safe environment. With the news flooded with reports of the federal and several state governments requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing as a condition of employment, many employers are re-thinking both return to work plans and vaccine policies. In addition, there has been a call to private enterprises to do what federal and state governments cannot or are unwilling to do, mandate vaccines as a condition to returning to the workplace.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., chief medical advisor to President Biden, recently spoke to Bloomberg on Aug. 9 “strongly encouraging private enterprises to seriously consider the idea of mandating vaccinations. …” Dr. Fauci expressed his view that the public health crisis with the new variants requires stronger measures by all. He stresses that “in a public health crisis you need to look at for the good of the community as well as your own personal libertarian views.” In keeping with this theme, President Biden met with private employers on Aug. 10, including United Airlines and Kaiser Permanente, to discuss mandatory COVID-19 vaccines. After announcing new requirements for federal workers and contractors, vaccinations or weekly testing, social distancing, and masking, Biden is urging the private sector to help facilitate vaccination.

Like federal and state governments, many corporations are revising their return to work and vaccination policies. United Airlines, Tyson Foods, Google, and Walmart are requiring vaccines for some or all of their workers. Over 60 national healthcare organizations have published a joint statement in support of mandatory vaccinations for all workers in health and long-term care. Google announced a delay in its return to work plans from September to October to facilitate workers obtaining vaccinations before returning to work.

In light of current rates of infection, employers may want to revisit their COVID-19 response plans. They may wish to consider such plans with reference to new CDC guidance and recent federal and state government responses to the new variants. Companies may want to review the specifics of returning employees to the workplace, requiring vaccinations, obtaining proof of vaccination status, implementation of safety protocols consistent with the CDC, OSHA, or state/local health department guidance, and evaluation of industry-specific standards. In formulating plans, key considerations may include:

  • Review of state or local authority on vaccine mandates, masking, and other safety protocols
  • Review of any collective bargaining agreements
  • An evaluation of the risks existent in your unique workplace
  • Consideration of the benefits of the policies
  • What is the likely impact on employee morale
  • Review of accommodations/exemptions for religious or medical reasons
  • Development of a communication plan – with emphasis on robust education
  • Consideration of incentives to stimulate compliance
  • Offering well-being, mental health, or other resources for employees

Employers may want to look to available resources in creating their plans and protocols. For example, Clark Hill Labor & Employment Partners Dave Cessante and Mike Nowlan recently gave a webinar on mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations in the Automotive and Manufacturing Industries –  providing great thought leadership in this area. In case you missed this timely presentation, here is a link for you to review.

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