We asked HR Annie Consultants for some advice on how to get started on creating a vaccination policy, no matter your business size — here’s what we learned.
On September 9th, the Biden Administration declared a new vaccine mandate that will apply to businesses with 100 or more employees and require employee vaccinations or weekly COVID testing. This is the most extensive campaign ramping up vaccination rates in the US to date and has left many employers wondering what’s next as the surrounding regulations will not be in effect until the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) drafts a rule in the coming weeks. While the mandate will apply to larger restaurant groups, creating a vaccination policy is just a smart idea — even if you’re a single restaurant with less than 100 employees. To help you get started, we spoke with our friends at HR Annie Consulting in Portland, Oregon, for advice on what to include when creating a mandatory vaccination policy. Here are some key aspects to keep in mind if you’re just now thinking about starting your own policy.
Be clear on the who and why.
The first step in creating your vaccination policy is to identify which jobs it will apply to and explain why it’s required for the job. For example, a larger restaurant group may choose to apply the policy to all employees working within one of their restaurants, but exclude administrative staff working remotely who won’t be returning to an office setting. Regardless if you have a remote staff or not, your policy should include the reasoning behind mandating the vaccination for certain employees. For instance, why it’s necessary for the job to ensure the health and safety of other staff and guests.
Provide information on vaccination sites and covered costs.
If you’re creating a mandatory vaccination policy, you should provide information on where employees can receive the vaccine within the community. You should also research your state and local government sites for information on providing Paid Time Off (PTO). “In many circumstances, employees may be entitled to pay for their time receiving the vaccine.” HR Annie Consultants told us.
While OSHA has yet to release guidelines for the new vaccine mandate, employers with 100 or more employees may be required to provide PTO for time receiving the vaccine, and any time off needed for recovering from possible side effects. In the meantime, you can catch up on what the new vaccine mandate might entail by visiting the White House Action Plan to learn more. No matter how many employees you have, it’s essential to check in with State and City regulations — or seek legal counsel to determine how much PTO you’re required to offer when creating a mandatory vaccination policy.
Address how an employee may request an exception.
When drafting your policy, you must clearly outline a process for employees to request an exception due to qualifying religious or health reasons. According to an article by SHRM, “At a minimum, the policy should identify who employees should notify about receiving an accommodation and how to request one.” It’s also essential to include a disclaimer that employees will not experience retaliation for requesting accommodation. Again, it’s important to check in with your local health authority on how they are asking businesses to handle exception requests because it’s not the same from state to state or even between industries.
“This exception process should be an interactive process with your HR department or personnel to determine if an accommodation will be made.” HR Annie Consultants said about examining exception cases, “ Come up with an overarching way to manage these forms in an unbiased, fair, way. Be sure to take this exception process slow and be careful with this process, legally. Focus less on denying requests, and try to focus more on accommodations.” Again, if you don’t have an HR department — you can reach out to HR Annie Consultants for advice on creating a process or referrals on legal counsel.
Create a timeline and a process for gathering proof of immunization.
Your vaccination policy must identify a reasonable timeline for employees to receive all vaccination doses or request an exception before the deadline. Then, instruct employees on what will be required as proof of immunization — and that the information will remain confidential and separate from other employee documentation.
When collecting employees’ vaccination documentation, the best process is to designate a single person to manage and review employee vaccination status. “Documents an employer may require are the physical vaccine card, photo of the card or record of vaccination from a medical provider.” HR Annie Consultants advised, “Our legal partners recommended not keeping physical copies of cards for non-medical businesses and schools, but instead keeping a roster of employees with name, dates of each vaccine (both doses or the single J&J dose), and signature of the designated employee authorized to check vaccination status.” This information must remain confidential, so it’s essential to keep all records separate from other employee files.
Layout potential consequences for not complying.
Make sure you include a clear description of the consequences employees may face if they do not comply with the vaccination policy or don’t request an exception as outlined in your policy by the set deadline. Consequences could be layoffs, unpaid leave, or increased safety measures, according to SHRM. It’s important to stay true to the consequences and treat all who do not comply equally.
These are just a few pointers to keep in mind and get you on your way to implementing a mandatory vaccination policy at your establishment. We’re still in this together, and a vaccine is an important tool toward combating the virus and getting back to business as usual. Regulations around employment and the COVID-19 vaccine is new territory. So, it’s wise to seek legal counsel if it’s financially viable for you while you draft out your policy and to review any finalized documentation before sharing it with your employees — also, keep a close eye on your state’s health authority for more specific information.
Disclaimer: There is no current case law on this matter, and local/state mandates are subject to change. If you are implementing very specific vaccination policy requirements, we highly encourage that you consult with your attorney to ensure you are legally compliant in your industry, company size, and states where your employees work. If you need a trusted referral for legal counsel, reach out to HR Annie Consulting.