Will You Require Your Employees to Be Vaccinated?

Public health officials say that once we get to the threshold of 70 percent of people vaccinated against Coronavirus, we will achieve herd immunity, hopefully enabling the return to our pre-COVID lifestyles. Public health officials say that once we get to the threshold of 70 percent of people vaccinated against Coronavirus, we will achieve herd immunity, hopefully enabling the return to our pre-COVID lifestyles.

There’s been so much reporting about people’s hesitancy to get the COVID-19 vaccination, that news of long waiting lists to receive the vaccine is welcome to me.

Yet, it has been reported that approximately 40 percent of people say they will not be vaccinated against COVID. “Overall, 60 percent of Americans say they would definitely or probably get a vaccine for the Coronavirus, if one were available today, up from 51 percent who said this in September, according to the Pew Research Center. “About 4 in 10 (39 percent) say they definitely or probably would not get a Coronavirus vaccine, though about half of this group —or 18 percent of U.S. adults—say it’s possible they would decide to get vaccinated once people start getting a vaccine and more information becomes available…Yet, 21 percent of U.S. adults do not intend to get vaccinated and are ‘pretty certain more information will not change their mind.’”

That poll was taken at the beginning of December. With the reports of long waits to receive the vaccine, perhaps perceptions of the vaccine are improving, with more people becoming open to it.

However the majority of your employees feel about it, it looks like, as an employer, you will have the right to require employees to be vaccinated. On December 18, The New York Times reported that new federal guidelines give employers this power: “The Disabilities Act limits employers’ ability to require medical examinations such as blood tests, breath analyses, and blood-pressure screening. These are procedures or tests, often given in a medical setting, that seek information about an employee’s physical or mental conditions,” the article, by Vimal Patel, states. “The administration of a COVID-19 vaccine to a worker by an employer doesn’t fit that definition, the commission said. ‘If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status,” it stated, “and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.’”

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. If employers are able to require vaccination of employees who do not have a medical reason why they cannot be vaccinated, the decision is taken out of the hands of individuals (many of whom may be ignorant of the vaccine’s high level of safety), so that our society is able to get 70 percent of the population vaccinated faster. Public health officials say that once we get to that magic threshold of 70 percent, we will achieve herd immunity, hopefully enabling the return to our pre-COVID lifestyles.

The question is how to avoid alienating employees who do not want to get vaccinated. To avoid that alienation from happening, host an online meeting in which fears about the vaccine are discussed, with answers from a local doctor or health official provided. It would be best if people could ask questions of the health expert without their names or faces shown. That way, there would be no chance of a vaccine skeptic holding back from asking questions for fear of ridicule.

Once you hold an online town hall, with the ability for questions to be submitted in real time anonymously, it’s time for your top executives to set an example. Just as President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris were recorded on video getting the vaccine, so, too, should your company’s leaders. Be sure those who are vaccinated on camera are from a diverse group of backgrounds, so employees of all backgrounds will have a vaccination role model they can identify with and trust.

The next point to consider is whether you want to offer a carrot rather than a stick in the quest to get employees vaccinated. Instead of threatening the loss of jobs, you could provide an incentive for being vaccinated. For example, you could provide a modest bonus or gift card to those who get vaccinated, or an extra vacation day or two. To speed the process, offer two additional vacation days to those who get vaccinated by a certain date and one additional day to those who get vaccinated later. Or offer a higher bonus or more generous gift card to those who get vaccinated early.

You also could plan a special event that only those who have been vaccinated will be able to attend. That could be as simple as a nice dinner at a local restaurant, or it could be an elaborate mid-to-late summer party in a popular venue.

Vaccinations enable the safe return to in-person office environments, so another great incentive is to offer an updated, more comfortable office for employees to return to. Is there an aspect of your office you have been meaning to renovate? Would it be possible to make workstations more comfortable? If you can make meaningful improvements to your office, that in itself, can provide an incentive to get vaccinated. Only those who have been vaccinated will get to see what you’ve done with the office, and experience the improvements. Even if the changes are modest, employees who are restricted to return in-person to the office because they have not been vaccinated may begin feeling like they’re missing out.

The vaccination is the best chance our society has of finally being able to toss masks in the trash, and forget what “social distancing” means. Part of corporate social responsibility is finding ways for your company to be a part of the solution that gets the greatest number of people possible vaccinated.

Will you require your employees to be vaccinated? Or will you incentivize vaccination rather than requiring it?