With the numbers of vaccinated individuals climbing, an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a return to business as normal, may be at hand. These welcome developments have many companies, including those in the promotional products industry, mapping out how best to return to the office and what role, if any, vaccines will play in these decisions.
Working in the office is optional at some industry companies and for those employees who do come in, procedures and practices are in place to allow for social distancing and other safety measures. Drew Davis, MAS, president and owner of distributor Specialty Incentives in Denver, Colorado, says, “For several months now we have been following a schedule where salespeople are assigned specific days of the week where they can come into the office. We specifically looked at office locations within our space and divided days up so that there would be minimal headcount and physical space between those who might come on their specified days. We have relocated some workspaces within the building as well to ensure distance between people while working. People are not required to come into the office on their assigned days, but with our schedule, it establishes consistency and confidence of a safe work environment.”
Regarding vaccinations, Davis, adds, “We feel Colorado has done a very good job of communicating and executing its vaccine plan. I have confidence in our team to make the best vaccination decision for their individual well-being. Due to the continued uncertainty of whether an employer can require vaccination it is not yet something Specialty Incentives has made a decision on.”
Claudia St. John, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, president of Affinity HR Group, Inc., PPAI’s affiliated human resources partner, notes that should businesses decide to mandate that employees get vaccinated for COVID-19, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that it is within their right to do so. In December 2020, it issued guidance stating clearly that a COVID vaccine, administered by an employer or by a third-party administrator on behalf of an employer, is not a medical examination and is permissible. While the EEOC has deemed such a requirement permissible, it stated that employers should have a well-articulated business reason for requiring the vaccine, such as the need to protect the health of employees or clients, or the need to travel, work with vulnerable populations, or work in close quarters with others.
The EEOC also cautioned that employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” to employees who either are unable to receive a vaccine due to a medical condition or due to a “sincerely held religious belief.” A reasonable accommodation may include allowing an employee to work from home, isolate from other workers or significantly adjust work duties to provide protections from the general employee population. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers must allow reasonable accommodations such as these as long as providing the accommodation doesn’t cause “undue hardship” for the employer.
“Our advice for employers is to take steps toward encouraging vaccines before they decide to mandate them,” says St. John. “For a number of reasons, employees may be reluctant to get a vaccine—either because of legitimate health concerns or religious beliefs, or because of personal beliefs, privacy issues and/or political concerns. While mandating the vaccine may be ultimately appropriate, we advise employers to encourage vaccines as a first step.”
St. John suggests that business leaders can encourage vaccinations as part of a larger workplace wellness campaign, supported by goals and challenges and positive incentives; provide educational campaigns for employees to address their concerns, including inviting a medical professional to address employees’ confidential health concerns; give employees time off with pay to obtain the vaccine and, if necessary, to convalesce from the inoculation, and also to lead by example by taking the first vaccine and celebrating the first step toward beating the pandemic.
Courtesy of PPAI Media