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Tracy Steedman Discusses Employer Vaccination Policies

Here are answers to some of the questions I hear most often about vaccine mandates in the workplace:

  • Can my company mandate vaccines?
    • Yes, but you cannot require employees who have a disability or hold a sincerely-held religious belief, practice or observance, that prohibits them getting the vaccine. You can require a doctor’s note for the medical issue and thoughtfully question the employee about their beliefs to see it is actually their faith, and if that faith’s rules disallow vaccines.
  • Can I ask my employees for proof that they got the vaccine?
    • Yes, but you cannot share that information.
  • Can I require that the unvaccinated be subject to regular testing?
    • Yes. The policy should list nearby testing facilities.
  • Can I require everyone in the office to wear masks?  Yes.
    • The reason you would not require just the unvaccinated to wear masks is that it would expose those employees’ status to others.
    • Consider the office space. For example, if everyone has their own office, they can remove their mask when they are in their office. Once they leave their office, they should be masked.

When distributing the policy to employees, it needs to be clear and then enforced uniformly. You should also be upping your safety protocols as if we were in May 2020.

Yes, you may get push back. In the policy, state that it is the company’s obligation to protect the health and safety of all of its employees and that the employer is making decisions based on medical guidance and in the best interest of all its employees.

In situations where an employee refuses to wear a mask or comply with the new vaccine policy, termination could be a consideration because the employee is refusing to comply with what is essentially a safety protocol. If you encounter resistance to a policy, you should first have a discussion to determine the employee’s reasoning. Where the employee has a reason other than a disability or religious belief for not complying with a vaccination requirement, termination may be on the table, as with other cases in which employees do not comply with an organization’s policies. Consider whether termination would create staffing concerns or disrupt business operations. Maybe a disciplinary leave or other alternatives. Also think about how requiring the vaccine may give hesitant employees the incentive to return to the office.

There is a lot more information on these issues, but these are the basics. Three more points:

  • Keep an eye out for fake vaccination cards. It has turned out to be big business.
  • Under OSHA, employers have the obligation to ensure that their work space is safe from physical hazards, including their employees working from home.
  • Use the phrase “return to the office (or work place)”. Do not use “return to work.” It implies that the folks working from home were not working.

For more information about workplace safety, vaccine mandates or other litigation matters, contact Tracy Steedman today.

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