Employers are looking for ways to encourage their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination as they become more readily available so that business operations can return to normal. In a Return to Work survey of CEOs and HR professionals conducted by Rocket Lawyer last April, it was revealed that while 90% of participants were either not planning to require that workers be vaccinated or were undecided, 63% had not consulted with an attorney about their COVID-19 vaccine policies and 37% had not updated their Employee Handbooks over the course of the pandemic.
While many employers are implementing a COVID-19 vaccination policy, or have already updated their existing vaccine policies to add Covid-19 to the required list, still many more are holding back and wondering how to address the vaccination issue in preparation for the reopening of offices and workplaces. Here we provide answers to the top questions employers are asking about vaccine exemptions and implementing vaccination policies.
Need a Vaccination Policy as Employees Return to Work?
Set expectations and reduce risks by making a policy
that fits your needs.
Does my business need a COVID-19 Vaccination Policy?
A workplace Vaccination Policy tells your employees what your requirements are for all vaccinations, not just for the COVID-19 vaccine. Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, in particular, may be critical for your business if employees regularly interact with each other or customers. If you plan to require the COVID-19 vaccine for your workers, then a written policy is essential. It will inform your staff about the requirement and what can happen if employees without a vaccine exemption choose not to get the vaccine.
A Vaccination Policy protects you, your employees, and your customers. If you decide to let an employee go for failing to get the vaccine, you can defend your decision by pointing to the policy. A clear workplace Vaccination Policy that covers COVID-19 vaccinations also helps ensure your employees are not caught off-guard by the potential consequences of not getting vaccinated.
When should Vaccination Policies be updated?
Vaccination Policies should be kept up-to-date as needed, or as federal, state, or local guidelines demand. With new vaccines and variants emerging, the dynamics of a safe workplace will continuously change. Your employees deserve to stay aware of any changes in your expectations and what is required to maintain a safe working environment.
Make sure your employees receive copies of any updates and sign a document to confirm that they read it. Again, your Vaccination Policy is there to protect you, your employees, and your customers.
What is a Vaccine Exemption?
There are some individuals who cannot receive a vaccination for religious or health reasons. They may have an allergy or hold a strong religious conviction against vaccinations. To avoid running afoul of anti-discrimination laws, consider offering a Vaccine Exemption.
Additional data from the Rocket Lawyer Return to Work Survey shows nearly 87% of respondents did not have a documented vaccine exemption process. A Vaccine Exemption allows an individual to claim they are legally exempt from a vaccine requirement. Some states with school vaccination laws, for example, require a form like this to be signed before non-vaccinated students are allowed to attend public schools. By having Vaccine Exemption documents on file for employees who cannot get vaccinated, you can easily track who is and is not vaccinated, and why some have chosen not to get the vaccine. You can also protect yourself against liability when someone does not follow your COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.
This is particularly important if someone who is not getting the vaccine has a documented disability. Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines, employees can be exempt from required vaccinations under the ADA and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Offering the exemption when appropriate will protect you from liability in these circumstances.
What would an employee need to qualify for a Vaccine Exemption?
By law, employees are not required to show any proof of religious beliefs or health conditions that might relieve them of the requirement to get a vaccination. Employers may request to see a doctor’s note, but federal privacy laws allow someone to decline that request. Courts have also said that employers should accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs or observances unless it causes “undue hardship” for the business. This, unfortunately, is difficult to define, which is why many employers seek legal help when an employee requests an exemption or when crafting the exemptions to the policy. If you have questions about your rights and options as an employer, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for legal advice tailored to your specific situation.
Keeping your employment and HR documents up-to-date, including policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, is vital to protect your employees and your company. Employment law is constantly changing, especially in light of the pandemic, so take the time to understand your options and protect yourself with proper documentation.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.