According to Gallup, about 58 percent of Americans have indicated that they plan to get vaccinated when one or more of the Covid-19 vaccines becomes available. This percentage will likely increase over the next few months, especially after we have a new president who isn't a liar and a denier. But it's fair to assume that 30 percent or more of the population won't be in any hurry to step up for the shot. And there's zero likelihood that the vaccination procedure will ever be made mandatory at any level. If you think any kind of consistent state or national mask-wearing mandate is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, you can't begin to imagine how challenging a mandatory vaccine would be.
Since first responders and many others (elders, etc.) will be at the head of the line, a realistic estimate for relatively easy access to the necessary shot or shots is probably around May or June, which is roughly the current calendar target that many companies have suggested for bringing groups of employees back to their offices. So there's going to be some time before the crunch and obviously a substantial number of WFH-ers who plan to never be more than an occasional visitor to their former offices. But that doesn't really get them or you off the hook in terms of what they need to do for their own good and, more importantly, to help protect the business.
Now's the time to start thinking about how you're going to insulate your business and your employees, vendors/essential service providers, and customers from the active anti-vaxxers and other less overt refuseniks who may be in your midst. The one thing you can be absolutely certain of is that you're not going to get much help, guidance, or even direction from the federal government. I suppose in another life and time there might be a government that insisted that, if you wanted to travel on a plane, you would have to produce actual proof that you had been vaccinated in a timely fashion. But it's never gonna happen in the U.S.--at least not for domestic trips. If it's not going to happen for air travel, with the complete TSA infrastructure already in place, you can be sure that there won't be any easy solution forthcoming for your place of business.
At best, it's more likely that we may see some prohibitions about what employers cannot do, rather than anything instructive in the way of rules and regulations to help deal with this utterly unforeseen and complicated situation. This is a real chicken-and-egg problem because it's going to be very difficult to assure your employees that you are providing them with a safe, clean, and secure work environment without taking active and continuing steps to make sure that unvaccinated, and possibly contagious, asymptomatic employees and visitors aren't walking around the place.
I'm not sure that there are any HR or legal professionals in a position to provide substantial advice on these questions. The situation is going to be so fluid, and the political environment is already so highly charged, that in every city and state there will be pronouncements, orders, sporadic enforcement, and generally rampant confusion from struggling politicians trying to placate competing and contrary constituencies.
Sadly, nothing we have experienced to date during the pandemic has led to any real consensus or understanding. At best we've learned that delay and obfuscation won't help. We've also learned that it's far more important to know all the questions and concerns than it is to pretend to have all the answers. Ultimately, it will fall on the owners and managers of each business to decide how best to approach the problems and to cope with the consequences.
So, what are some of the critical questions we need to be considering? I'd start with these:
- WFH has extended the workday well into the evening for so many employees because the whole team often can't get together during the regular 9-to-5 hours due to other commitments. What do I do about comp and overtime issues?
- Can I require my employees to return to the office at a certain date and time? What are my remedies for those who refuse? What if they claim that they are sick with the virus?
- Can I require my returning employees to be vaccinated before they return, assuming that I am willing to cover any costs? What are my remedies for those who refuse to be vaccinated, but state that they are willing to return to work?
- Will my current sick leave and personal day policies need to be changed or amended, especially if there are third-party orders and directions with respect to these policies? An analogy here might be the suspension of evictions and utility cutoffs that many cities have adopted.
- What are my obligations and requirements regarding notification? Do I need to publish and distribute our vaccination policy? Do I need to advise all my returning employees of any other in-house employees who test positive and when? Does a positive test mean I need to return to some WFH formulation?
Bottom line: No easy questions, no simple answers. And we haven't even addressed the issues with customers, clients, vendors, and essential outside providers of services and products to your business.
We're all in this together searching for a comprehensive solution and yet, at the moment, we're all on our own and it's every entrepreneur for themselves.