It’s 9 AM on Monday morning and you’re dialing in to your weekly Zoom call with the leadership team. Before you can take your first sip of coffee, your CEO shares the news: Your company will mandate vaccines for all employees.
“And we’ll need HR’s guidance on this one,” she says.
You, head of HR for said small business, smile and nod on screen. Meanwhile, you casually hit mute and proceed to type “vaccine mandates for small businesses” into the Google search bar. You hope for some clarity—nay, a sign—for what you should do next.
If this sounds like you, or the week you’ve been having, know that you’re not alone. With the Delta variant steamrolling many companies’ back-to-workplace plans, HR professionals are facing yet another round of “how do we keep employees safe and protect the company?” And in this case, we mean protect the company from employees who aren’t kosher with a vaccine mandate.
So, what will your HR guidance be? Let’s break it down.
Can Small Business Mandate Vaccines for Employees? Should They?
To answer the first part of that question, yes—small businesses (and any organization, for that matter) can mandate vaccines for employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that the COVID-19 vaccine can be made mandatory in the workplace, with some exceptions.
Keep in mind, however, that some states aim to ban vaccine mandates—so watch this space.
“Just as a state could ban discrimination on certain bases or certain traits in the civil rights law, states can also adopt legislation that constrains employers from asking or demanding their employees have had the vaccine," Kreis said. #gapol https://t.co/Y9PFcZmaHJ— Anthony Michael Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) August 10, 2021
Also keep in mind that if your company mandates vaccines, you will need to consider reasonable accommodations for employees with disability-related or religious objections, or for those employees who are pregnant.
Now, should you mandate vaccines for employees? To answer that question, examine your business needs, as well as the needs of your employees and customers.
Consider scenarios like:
- Do your employees interact with the public on a regular basis, such as in the food and beverage service industry?
- Does your business work with or support a vulnerable population?
- Does your employee population primarily work remotely? Strictly on site? A mix?
Thinking through these different scenarios—including the risks associated with operating the business, as well as who could be at risk (i.e., employees and customers)—can help you (help your leadership team) decide if a vaccine mandate is right for your company.
Supplemental reading: COVID Is Adapting. Here’s Why Your Workplace Policies Need to, Too.
What HR Should Know (and Do) About Mandating Vaccines in the Workplace
So, you’ve decided to move forward with mandating vaccines at your company. Now what?
According to HR experts like Suzanne Lucas (the self-anointed Evil HR Lady herself) and the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are several steps you should take:
Step 1: Establish a COVID-19 vaccination policy and timeline.
Here’s where you cover the five w’s:
- Who needs to get vaccinated (everyone)
- When they need to be vaccinated by (and any other important dates)
- What documentation will need to be shared with HR
- Where employees’ private health information will be stored (more on confidentiality, below)
- Why you’re establishing a vaccination mandate policy (Remember: transparency builds trust and a sense of belonging at work)
Also, be clear on the consequences of non-compliance. Companies like Google and Facebook have established that employees who don’t comply will be subject to termination.
Google has become one of the first major Silicon Valley firms to say it will require employees to be vaccinated when they return to the company's campuses https://t.co/g3LQHuXXuP— CNN (@CNN) July 28, 2021
Need help getting started with a vaccination mandate policy? Check out this free template from SHRM.
Step 2: Maintain confidentiality.
Per the EEOC, any documentation or other confirmation that employees provide about their vaccination status is considered medical information and must be kept confidential. Be sure to communicate this to employees, and let them know that HR will control access to the information and limit its use.
Also, depending on where your business operates, the data could be protected under state law. Consult an employment law attorney to understand any pertinent legal obligations and risks.
Step 3: Update your HR policies.
As CDC guidance for businesses and employers continues to evolve, it will be important to continue updating your COVID-19 workplace policy to adhere to the latest guidance, as well.
Read more: 4 Steps to Creating (and Communicating) a COVID-19 Workplace Policy
Likewise, your employees’ vaccination statuses will change, too—changing the way policies apply to them (or not). As such, it’s critical to keep a pulse on the ever-changing needs of your people, and adapt your workplace policies to keep them safe.
Step 4: Continue communicating.
Keeping your employees up to date on changing policies will help them feel safer and more engaged. Encourage leaders to talk to their people about the Delta variant, discuss how new workplace policies affect them, ask about their concerns with returning to the office or continuing to work remotely, as well as check in on their mental health and well-being.
Don’t Go It Alone
We know staying on top of today’s ever-changing workplace can be a lot for a small HR team, especially if you’re a team of one. At Eddy, we help take the administrative tasks off your plate, so you can focus on taking care of your employees.
Want to keep up with the trends shaping the HR industry? Subscribe to get our weekly updates right to your inbox.