COVID-19 & Corporate Wellness

Navigating the New COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates in the Workplace

COVID-19 and the workplace

On Nov.4, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) unveiled a new rule for employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace. This was no doubt met with mixed reactions as many workers, and employers alike were immediately plunged into a sea of uncertainty about what the next steps are. The rule requires that employers with 100 or more employees must implement compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for their employees or offer a weekly testing option for those who either refuse or are exempted from taking the shot.

However, barely a few days after the rule was announced, a federal appeals court suspended the implementation of the vaccine requirements for these employers, leaving the future of vaccine mandates for private employers uncertain. But employers still must be prepared for the “worst”.

According to the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the vaccine mandate bordered on “grave statutory and constitutional” issues, suggesting that it gave too much power than needed on OSHA to make these kinds of decisions for workers. Consequently, the rule has led to more confusion and uncertainty in the corporate circle.

What will be the outcome of the suspension? Will vaccine mandates eventually be reinstated for employees? Are employers going to have to decide by themselves what is best for the safety and wellbeing of their employees? These questions and more need to be revisited by HR leaders and managers to ensure workers’ safety is not jeopardized or politicized.

Regardless of the outcome of the current battle between OSHA and the federal appeals court on vaccine mandates, employers must decide now how best to navigate this situation. In fact, legal and medical experts have advised employers covered under the requirements to prepare for the rule as if the legal obstruction won’t change the rule.

Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at Willis Towers Watson said “employers should continue their preparation for compliance in case the emergency temporary standard is allowed to proceed.” “This includes developing the infrastructure and policies and procedures to address requests for medical or religious exemptions in a compliant and nondiscriminatory manner and deciding whether to offer testing as an option to vaccination and setting up the vendor contracts to put this into place,” he added

With the Jan 4 deadline in close view, employers have to walk a tightrope to handle this highly polarized situation. According to a recent survey from insurance broker McGriff, more employers are in favor of vaccine mandates and had begun preparing their policies even before President Biden announced the plan. Companies such as United Airlines, Facebook, and Tyson Foods have already mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for the employees despite the suspension of the ruling.

But truth is, it is not for employers to wait for the outcome of the legal challenges before they decide what’s in the best interest of their workers; take a holistic and thorough evaluation of your current work situation, speak with the experts, and determine the best course of action for your workplace. What are the best strategies now for curbing COVID-19 spread in your office and getting back to normal? Thefocus shouldn't be about the politics of the mandate, but the health and wellbeing of your employees.  

Nonetheless, supporting or implementing the mandate is not as simple as it sounds, there are key things employers and HR managers should know before implementing their decisions:

Get the right information

Educate yourself about the vaccine requirements, study the contexts and nuances, and have experts walk you through the gray areas before making a decision. Go through available resources on the rule, including OSHA’s webinar and the fact sheet that highlights the important information on the rule. Get familiar with every bit of information in these resources and send them to your employees as well if they wish.

Familiarize yourself with the accommodations for exemptions, and what counts as valid religious and medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination. Ensure you also understand what the Americans with Disability Act, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) say about these accommodations.

Communicate your decision

After considering the details of the vaccine mandate and its alternatives, you must decide which course to take. If you wish to implement the vaccine mandate or choosing to test routinely - at least, pending the outcome ofthis legal battle - communicate in clear times the rationale behind your decision, how it best serves the employees and the workplace, and what exemptions you are willing to accommodate under the law.

If you wish to implement the vaccine mandate, be clear about every detail: what deadlines are given? What are the merits and safety benefits of taking the shot? What would be the consequences for workers who refuse to take the shot?

While handling such politically polarized issues, employers need to be decisive and assertive, they also need to be thoughtful. Address your workers’ concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, have medical experts address some myths or reservations about the vaccines to improve uptake and compliance.

If you choose to implement routine COVID-19 testing while you wait for the outcome of the legal battle or even if the vaccine mandate ruling is allowed to proceed, be clear about when it would be done, who will pay for the testing, and what type of COVID-19 tests would be required.

Create a clear COVID-19 policy

Again, this issue should not be about the politics of vaccine mandates, neither should it be about what the legal challenges will result in; it should be about safeguarding the health and wellbeing of your workers.

What if the rule is subsequently canceled? What if it is made to proceed but is cut short by the Biden administration a few weeks or months into its implementation? What if these legal challenges are dragged for several months on end? Will your decision drift with the politics?

Therefore, employers should put their foot to the ground and make clear policies for the good of the workplace. If you are implementing a vaccine mandate, it only stands to reason not to hinge it on any political decision but on the health of your employees and clients. You could have the mandate for as long as COVID-19 remains a serious public health issue or you could implement regular testing for as long as you want your workplace free of the virus; the decision is ultimately yours.

You can leverage tech solutions, such as TrustAssure, to help you create this policy. TrustAssure by CLXHealth is a leading technology that helps you comply with the OSHA guidelines, vaccination requirements, covid testing, etc.  It is the leading option adopted by major airlines, cruise lines, hotels and other organizations toprotect their employees and guests while handling their compliance and mitigate liability.

Combat COVID-19 with GHA For Business

To help you navigate this crisis, Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) has launched GHA For Business, compiled and designed by industry experts, experts in workplace wellness and safety, and healthcare policymakers to ensure businesses create the right return-to-work policies for their employees.

The GHA For Business also includes guidelines and policies that align with the OSHA Mandate, helping you get to where you need to be faster. It is not just about the vaccine mandates, there is an array of strategies and measures to be implemented in the workplace to safeguard employee health and wellbeing. 

So while the vaccine requirements announced last month for private employers have become a politically polarized issue, employers should not forget the primary aim of these measures: safeguarding employee health and wellbeing. Therefore, kill the noise, go back to your policy table, and put employees back at the center of your decision. What will be the best strategy to safeguard your workplace?

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