Deciding to require Covid-19 vaccines for all your employees isn't an easy thing to do. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says clearly that you can make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory (with exceptions, discussed below), and the courts have upheld this, it's not as easy as telling people to get the vaccine.
Your policy needs to balance business needs and public health concerns with a healthy dose of realism. Older employees are more likely to be vaccinated, while younger employees may not see the point. Of course, if your business works with vulnerable populations, immediate vaccination is more important than if your employees rarely come into contact with other people.
Here are the steps to putting together your mandatory vaccine plan.
Create a statement of need
Is it important that your employees receive the Covid-19 vaccine? Of course! But if everyone works exclusively at home, you don't have an actual business need and cannot require your employees to be vaccinated. But your statement of need doesn't have to be complicated. Here's an example from the Society for Human Resource Management:
In accordance with [Company Name]'s duty to provide and maintain a workplace that is free of known hazards, we are adopting this policy to safeguard the health of our employees and their families; our customers and visitors; and the community at large from infectious diseases, such as Covid-19 or influenza, that may be reduced by vaccinations. This policy will comply with all applicable laws and is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities, as applicable.
Note that you can use this statement for either a mandatory plan or a voluntary vaccination policy. You're simply stating that you want to keep your business safe.
Federal contractor compliance
If your business is a federal contractor with employees onsite, your employees need to "attest" to their vaccination status or they must wear a mask and have regular tests. Travel restrictions may also apply. Make sure that your policy complies with the federal regulations, and keep in mind that you can have some employees who are federal contractors and some who are not. You can have different standards for employees in different groups.
You cannot, practically, tell everyone to get their first dose by tomorrow. You need to set up a reasonable timeline. Because vaccinations are generally available everywhere without much notice or an appointment, that timeline can be fairly short. Three months should probably be sufficient at this point.
Your mandatory vaccination policy needs to include the following exemptions.
- ADA exemption. If your employee has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, you treat this as any other disability request. Have their doctor fill out the paperwork and then go through the interactive process with them to find a solution. This solution may be wearing a mask, regular Covid tests, or continuing to work from home, among other solutions. Please consult your employment attorney before taking any negative action on an employee with an ADA request.
- Religious exemption. An employee who has a sincerely held belief against vaccines may qualify for an exemption, similar to the ADA exemption. Identifying if someone's belief is "sincere" or not can be a tricky process. They don't have to belong to a particular church to be eligible for this exemption. If you have any concerns, before taking any negative actions, please contact your employment attorney.
- Pregnancy. Some obstetricians are recommending the Covid-19 vaccination, and some are not. Follow the same guidelines as the ADA exemptions for this, with an understanding that your employee should be vaccinated before returning to the workplace. The CDC says that lactating mothers can receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
Consequences of not being vaccinated
If you choose to have a mandatory vaccine policy, like Google, Facebook, Walmart (corporate offices), and Disney have done, you need to have a consequence for not vaccinating.
That consequence can be termination.
If you're not prepared to terminate unvaccinated employees, you may wish to strongly encourage employees rather than require vaccinations. Companies that struggle to recruit now may find it impossible with a vaccine mandate.
You can consider carrots or sticks when determining consequences. The federal government decided to use the stick method by requiring masks, testing, and limiting travel. You can try that or use the carrot method by offering rewards for vaccinating. The EEOC says you can offer rewards as long as they are "noncoercive" and don't violate other laws, like the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
If you offer employees a reward for vaccination, make sure you give the reward to all vaccinated employees, and not just the ones who waited until now. You don't want to reward procrastination and punish promptness.
Consult with your local employment attorney
Your vaccine policy needs to comply with federal, state, and local laws. If you operate across state lines, you need to ensure compliance with all states. Keep in mind that not all states allow mandatory vaccinations. There is also a myriad of state laws that you need to keep in mind. This is not a situation where you want to make a policy on your own and then find yourself in court.