Since COVID-19 vaccines became available in December 2020, nearly 70% of adults in the U.S. have become fully vaccinated. A greater portion of the population still needs to be vaccinated to reduce the spread of the virus.
To encourage an uptick in vaccination rates, the Biden administration announced an Emergency Temporary Standard that would require companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccines. After being put on a brief hold, the standard is now scheduled to take effect January 2022.
Since the standard is going into effect soon and citations are slated to begin January 10 (citations for noncompliance with testing requirements will begin February 9), it’s critical that eligible employers start taking action now. Here’s a quick guide on what your company needs to do to get ready for the vaccine mandate. For more detailed information and to ensure you’re complying with the standard should it go into effect, consult with your legal team.
1. A Vaccine Policy
Under the Emergency Temporary Standard, your company needs to develop a vaccine policy that either:
- Requires employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, OR
- Requires unvaccinated employees to get tested at least once a week. Unvaccinated employees need to wear a face-covering when they are at work.
If you decide to require vaccinations without exemption, you can dramatically reduce the risk of COVID spreading through your team. You also protect anyone who might visit your workplace, such as delivery drivers, employee family members, and clients.
A weekly testing policy might not offer the same level of protection as a full vaccine mandate but does allow your business to accommodate employees who might need to refuse the vaccine for health or religious reasons. It could also be the case that people who initially refuse the vaccine decide to get it after having to deal with several weeks of regular testing.
2. A Vaccination Program
Some people experience side effects after getting the COVID vaccine, which can make some people hesitant to get vaccinated. To encourage vaccination, the standard requires employers to have a support program in place.
While you don’t have to hold on-site vaccination clinics, it can be useful to provide employees with as much information as possible concerning where they can get the vaccine and when they can go.
The standard also requires you to give employees time to get the shots. You should provide each employee with up to four hours of paid time for each shot. Your company also needs to provide employees with reasonable time to recover from any side effects after the vaccine.
3. A Way to Track Employee Vaccination Status
If the mandate goes into effect, your company will need to have a way to keep track of employees’ vaccination status. Fortunately, there are apps available that simplify the process of vaccine tracking.
With an app, an employee can self-report their vaccination status and provide proof, such as a photograph of their CDC vaccination card. You can also use the app to have employees report when and if they get a booster shot and when they receive their flu shot.
4. A Testing Policy
Your company might decide to give employees the option of getting tested weekly if they decide not to get vaccinated and work on-site. To do so, you need to decide what types of COVID tests are appropriate and who will pay for the test. Your company doesn’t need to pay for employee COVID testing under the standard.
Additionally, your company needs to have a plan of action in case an employee tests positive. That plan should include:
- A way to notify the employer of a positive test result
- Removal of the employee from the workplace right away
- A way to determine when the employee can return to work (such as a negative COVID test or spending at least 14 days in quarantine)
5. Information About the Vaccines
While a vaccine mandate is likely to encourage many vaccine-hesitant employees to get the COVID shots, so will providing them with information that increases their confidence in the vaccines. Your company might consider implementing a program that teaches people about the benefits of vaccinations and that assuages any concerns people might have about the safety of the shots.
The COVID-19 vaccines save lives and reduce the risk of serious illnesses. Requiring employee vaccinations can also help your business get back on track and back to normal, sooner rather than later.