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Mandating Vaccinations? What’s Your Plan?

We enjoyed a lively “Let’s Talk HR” session last month regarding client questions, interests, and intentions with COVID vaccinations in their workplace. For those of you who missed it, here are some of the general themes and navigation points around which the decision to ‘mandate’ vaccinations might be made:

1. General risk and liability to the business

Does your industry or business carry a more significant burden of risk and liability by not mandating vaccinations? An enterprise that is public facing will most likely have a higher risk of liability associated with infecting customers and exposing or failing to protect staff. As well, concern over a staff outbreak resulting in a suspension of operations may also be a significant risk. A good case could be made that many different enterprises may significantly reduce risk and liability from both external as well as internal sources by requiring vaccinations. In all cases, minimizing risk and liability are dominating factors in the decision to mandate vaccinations.

Participant Discussion: Among the 5-6 organizations represented at the session, all appreciated their business was accountable in some way for protecting both external and internal stakeholders against the spread of COVID. Additional PPE, work from home options, distancing measures, screening efforts and other activities taken thus far all represented ways in which each felt they had made an impact. Current media news suggested 60% of employers were considering mandating COVID vaccines, however none of the participants on the call were expecting to make such a requirement.

2. General acceptance and receptivity to the vaccine

As an employer, are you willing to alienate or anger a significant percentage of your current and potential staff who are unwilling, unable, or disinterested in getting the COVID vaccine? Current research and polls indicate just over half of all Americans are planning on getting the vaccine, and even fewer from minority communities. A policy to require vaccinations may wreak all sorts of chaos within an organization.

Participant Discussion: Several individuals mentioned they were somewhat unaware of the sentiment their current staff members had on taking the vaccine. Without some better insight or intelligence on the matter, mandating vaccinations might be short sighted. One group decided they were going to offer a short survey to their teams to see just how and what their employees felt on the matter before deciding which avenue to take.

3. Whose ultimate responsibility is it to direct and ensure an individual’s health and wellbeing: the employer or the employee?

Personal health versus safety. Seems like this is where the question lies. Both overlap within the workplace, but how far can or should the employer to go affect both? To “manage” both?

There are truly very few instances, industries, or circumstances where an employer today requires vaccinations or other proactive personal health measures by their employees. It would be unrealistic to think any employer has a right to direct or engage in decisions their employees make related to their personal health, history, lifestyle, prevention, or behaviors. At the end of the day, where does the employer’s responsibility begin and end relating to decisions about their employee’s personal health matters?

Participant Discussion: None of the organizations represented on the call intended to mandate all employees be vaccinated. All attendees agreed that greater gains and acceptance regarding vaccination would be achieved through education, role modelling, and even incentives. As time goes on perhaps a new “cultural” norm will arise, offering suitable, equitable solutions to this conundrum.

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