Last week, President Biden announced a requirement for employers with 100 employees or more to mandate COVID vaccines or require weekly COVID testing.
I’m instructing the Department of Labor to require all employers with 100+ employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated — or show a negative test at least once a week.— President Biden (@POTUS) September 9, 2021
Some of the biggest companies have already required this: United, Disney, Tyson, and Fox News.
Naturally, this announcement set HR professionals (at companies of all sizes) scrambling to create a plan to comply with this mandate should the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) push it through.
As a proactive HR professional, you might also be thinking…
- “Could small businesses face a vaccine mandate next?”
- “Our CEO is against vaccine mandates. Will we be required to conduct weekly COVID testing?”
- “How would weekly testing work, exactly?”
Even if you’re an HR team of one, you’re not alone in facing these questions. We’re here to help you navigate this new mandate.
The good news? We’ve already covered what to do if your company decides to mandate vaccines for employees. (Yes, vaccine mandates are legal. With some exceptions, such as for people with disabilities or for religious reasons.)
Required reading: Your CEO Wants to Mandate Vaccines. Here’s What to Do Next.
So today, we’ll tackle how to adopt a workplace safety policy around weekly COVID testing.
Let’s get started.
Can Small Businesses Require Weekly COVID Testing? Should They?
To answer the first part of that question, yes—small businesses (and any organization, for that matter) can require weekly COVID testing for employees. Some companies have already started doing this to help mitigate the spread of the virus—and keep employees safe—as they bring people back to the office.
Now, should you require COVID testing for employees? Well, if you’re an employer with 100+ employees, you may not have a choice if (1) OSHA moves forward with Biden’s requirement and (2) you don’t plan to mandate proof of vaccination for your employees.
If you’re a small business (less than 100 employees) considering whether to test your employees weekly, here are a few things to consider:
- 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?
The answers to these questions—and consideration of the risks associated with operating your business, as well as who could be at risk (i.e., employees and customers)—can help you (help your leadership team) decide if requiring COVID testing is right for your company.
4 Steps to Take to Implement a COVID Testing Policy
So, your company’s decided to move forward with requiring employees to test weekly for COVID. Now, you need a plan.
Here are four steps to get started:
Step 1: Establish a COVID testing policy
Here’s where you think through and decide:
- Who needs to get tested. Per Biden’s order, only those employees who are unvaccinated need to get tested weekly. However, if you don’t plan to mandate showing proof of vaccination, you could ask employees to voluntarily provide their vaccination status—or test everyone.
- When employees will get tested, including frequency (in this case weekly, per Biden’s order) and dates. Be as specific as possible.
- Where employees will get tested, e.g., at your workplace; at a company-approved testing facility; etc.
- What information (i.e., test results) will be shared—and with whom. Employees personal health information should be kept confidential, but in this case, a positive COVID test result requires immediate action. Managers need to be as informed as possible to make the best health- and safety-related decisions for their people.
- Who will track employee testing. Will HR manage the execution of this policy? Managers? Is there a budget for an automated tracking tool?
- Why you’re establishing a weekly testing policy. Here’s where you tell employees why you’re establishing a weekly COVID testing policy. And remember, transparency builds trust and a sense of belonging at work.
Also, be clear on the consequences of non-compliance. Educate managers on how to handle situations where employees refuse to get tested, miss testing appointments, and so on.
Step 2: Communicate the weekly COVID testing policy to employees
Keeping your employees up to date on changing COVID workplace policies will help them feel safer and more engaged. Employees want to understand not only why policies are changing, but also how it affects them on a day-to-day basis.
Encourage leaders to talk to their people about the new requirement for weekly testing, ask about their concerns with returning to the office and/or continuing to work remotely, as well as check in on their mental health and well-being.
Tip: Start by simply asking, are you okay?
Step 3: Maintain confidentiality
Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), any documentation or other confirmation that employees provide about their vaccination status or COVID test result(s) 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 4: Stay nimble
Every company has different needs and capabilities when it comes to maintaining business operations during a pandemic. Remind leaders that COVID workplace policies—and federal mandates—will likely continue to evolve. As such, managers should lead by example and be flexible to meet the changing needs of their team as well as the organization as a whole.
Keeping Employees Safe Can Feel Like a Full-Time Job
… and we know you’re already busy enough.
At Eddy, we help HR professionals by taking administrative tasks off your plate, so you can focus on taking care of your employees.
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