Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare but serious neurological disease that requires hospitalization in almost all victims and has no known cure. With such a description, employers and people in general might be a little cautious about proceeding with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on July 12 that Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare side effect of this vaccine.
It sounds scary, and it might make you think about not encouraging your employees to receive their vaccine. But take a step back. Don't panic. Here's what employers need to know.
The scary side effects are rare.
J&J has administered 12.8 million doses of its vaccine, and there have been 100 reported cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Even so, that's not quite 0.0008 percent of the people who received the vaccine. If you get Covid-19, your chances of dying are much higher.
The FDA determined that this side effect was rare enough that the vaccine's benefits still outweigh the risks. As an employer, you should direct people to the FDA's statement that it continues to "find the known and potential benefits clearly outweigh the known and potential risks."
Employers aren't at financial risk for side effects.
If you encourage or even require an employee to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, you don't have to worry about legal problems if an employee suffers an unfortunate side effect. "There's zero liability," says employment attorney Jon Hyman, a director at Wickens Herzer Panza, a law firm in Avon, Ohio. "The vaccines are approved by the FDA for emergency use. No one is being forced to get a vaccine by their employer ... albeit some employers are mandating the vaccine as a condition of employment."
Employees who experience side effects from a vaccine mandated as a condition of employment could file a workers' compensation claim, but this would preclude employer liability, he says. As long as your workers' compensation policy is up to date, you don't need to worry about liability.
What to do if an employee suffers a serious side effect.
Some people will have side effects. And if one of your employees is so unlucky, you should do everything you can to help them. There are laws and programs in place to help people.
If you have more than 50 employees and the affected employee meets the qualifications under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they are entitled to up to 12 weeks of protected leave. If your company has fewer than 500 people, you can choose to participate in the extended version of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that extends until September 30. This will help provide income for your employee.
If you have 15 or more employees, your employee is eligible for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This can also protect the employee who needs to take time off to get the required medical treatment.
You should continue to work with the employee to help get whatever they need to return to the workplace. That's the right thing to do. And in most cases, it's the law that you give protected time off.
Continue to encourage vaccination.
The only way out of this Covid-19 mess is herd immunity. That can happen with everyone getting sick or with a high enough number of people being vaccinated against Covid-19. There are federal tax credits available to provide sick pay for people to get vaccinated. The CDC and the FDA recommend vaccination in almost all cases. (Send your employees to speak to their own doctors if they have health concerns.)
While Guillain-Barre is a tragic side effect, it is incredibly rare and it shouldn't change your current vaccination policies.