Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have been doing whatever it takes to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for employees. That’s one reason why employers began to consider whether to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines were made widely available. When the US was struggling to control the Delta variant and a large percentage of people remained unvaccinated in August 2021, the first vaccine mandates were issued by some large private employers including Disney, Google, United Airlines, and Tyson Foods. 

In September, the Biden Administration announced that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) would issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring all private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure all workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or produce a negative test every week. Published on November 5, the ETS states employees must either be vaccinated or tested by January 4, 2022

Whether you implement your own company mandate or simply comply with the ETS, it’s important to craft and communicate a clear workforce vaccination policy and be prepared to enforce your rules. In this article, we’ll explore considerations for employers when writing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, provide tips to craft and communicate a clear policy, and share strategies to follow when handling accommodation requests and enforcement. 

Vaccine mandate policy considerations for non-covered businesses

Employers with more than 100 employees must comply with the rules laid out in the new OSHA ETS. Additionally, OSHA made it clear the agency is considering how to apply a mandate to smaller businesses. However, for now, employers with fewer than 100 employees still have four options for pursuing a vaccination workplace policy:

  1. Encourage rather than mandate

  2. Soft mandate that requires unvaccinated employees to practice masking, distancing, and regular testing

  3. Implement premium surcharges for health insurance premiums

  4. Implement a hard mandate

There are many legal considerations for employers thinking about whether to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The National Law Review explores many of these legal issues including government orders and the feasibility of reasonable accommodations for exempt employees. Additionally, the article discusses several options businesses should discuss with competent legal counsel before deciding how to proceed with their vaccination policy. 

Businesses with an annual flu vaccination program in place can use it as a model for rolling out their COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Examine what aspects of your program have been successful and why. What methods of communication have been most effective? What types of information do employees typically request? When developing your messaging strategy, experts recommend following this checklist and carefully set expectations

  • Assess the state of your current workforce and vaccination status—is your workforce already more than 50% vaccinated?

  • Build a vaccination program team and include points of contact from various departments including HR, legal, occupational health, and marketing/PR.

  • Compile resources and provide a means for workers to ask questions. Be sure to have information from trusted sources such as federal, state, and local public health sites and the CDC.

  •  Develop and deliver training tailored for managers as well as personalized training for employees.

  • Distribute vaccination promotional materials and use clear language to explain who needs vaccinated and when.

  • Consider any compliance issues within your jurisdiction – for example, California requires employers to compensate employees for the time it takes to get vaccinated.

  •  Decide on the consequences for failure to comply with your company’s vaccine mandate. Are you willing to fire employees who refuse to comply?

  • Roll out your policy with a meeting and follow up with additional communications.

  • Keep your legal team in the loop as you roll out the program, especially if requests for accommodations are made. 

Employers with 100+ employees must comply with OSHA ETS

For larger employers, the OSHA ETS contains specific requirements around how and what employers must communicate to their employees about the federal vaccine mandate. The ETS states employers must provide relevant information to employees so they can have “sufficient knowledge and understanding” of the following:

  • The ETS and its requirements

  • Employer policies and procedures

  • Available COVID-19 vaccines

  • Employee protection against retaliation and discrimination

  • Potential penalties for providing false information to the employer

The required information listed above must be provided “in a language and at a literacy level the employee understands.” Employers may need to provide information in multiple languages and must choose wording that’s plain enough for everyone in the organization to understand. Employers should also include a point-of-contact to whom employees can direct additional questions.

Tips to communicate your COVID-19 vaccination policy

To successfully navigate the hurdles of keeping your workplace safe in an ongoing pandemic, losing workers who are resistant to vaccination, crafting clear policies, and maintaining compliance, it’s vital to develop and execute a strong communication plan. Experts recommend:

  • Tell employees ASAP about vaccine mandates even if you’re just thinking about it to minimize worker uncertainty and an

  • Clearly articulate and explain your rationale for issuing a vaccine mandate. Your main goal should be to maintain a safe workplace for all; keep politics out of it.

  • Put your vaccine mandate plan in writing but also be sure to communicate it in a variety of ways including meetings, calls, and emails.

  • Give employees time to process the information as well as sufficient time to comply with the mandate; consider the amount of time required to become fully vaccinated with a 2-dose series for example.

  • Be prepared for accommodation requests by having a standard form ready as part of an established process to collect and review these requests. 

It’s important to remember that federal EEO laws prohibit employers from applying a blanket rule requiring all employees to be vaccinated. Special exemptions on the basis of disability status or religious beliefs must be considered through a documented interactive process so that an employer can make a determination and provide appropriate accommodations. 

If employees don’t comply with the vaccine mandate and don’t qualify for an exemption, then your business will need to be prepared to follow through on consequences and close the loop. For example, your business should announce how many people did not comply and were therefore fired due to noncompliance. 

The help you need to create and maintain a safe workplace

As your business navigates the road ahead, be sure to consult legal counsel when appropriate. Asure is also here to help you navigate employment issues with our team of fully certified HR professionals and experts. We provide access to the tools, resources, and manpower you need to make the best decisions for your business and employees. 


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