A man getting the vaccine
Employee Benefits

Should You Require Employees to Vaccinate Against COVID-19?

Claire Pancerz
Claire Pancerz
Compliance Director, Employee Benefits

The question I’m getting most frequently right now is from confused employers wanting to know whether they should require employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

On one hand, we all want to develop herd immunity and get back to a life where we can shake hands without fear. On the other hand, we don’t want to violate employee rights or pressure employees who are reluctant for many reasons to get inoculated.

The key seems to be thinking logically about your business and your employees.

Employer Considerations for COVID-19 Vaccination Plans

If you have a business where 90 percent of your employees work successfully from home, then mandating the vaccine is probably more trouble than it is worth.

If you have a business where most of your employees are providing essential services, it’s more logical to require that those employees get their vaccine.

That being said, every employer should read through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance and consult with labor counsel before taking any steps to require vaccination.

If possible, the best thing you can do is meet your employees where they are. Some will want to be vaccinated, and some won’t. Forcing individuals to get vaccinated if they don’t work with the public or have constant exposure to the virus may be counterproductive. At this point, the demand for the vaccine is far outstripping the supply, so ordering employees to get vaccinated when they may not fall into a category that can actually get a vaccine may send the wrong message.

Instead, provide clear, fact-based information about the vaccines and how to get them. You can also route employees to their county health department website or local news websites. These are great sources of information.

Employers should also model the behavior they want to see. Company leaders should get vaccinated and be unafraid to discuss the process with their employees. Remember, to develop that critical herd immunity, we don’t need 100 percent of individuals to be vaccinated.

Questions Still Surround the Cost of the COVID-19 Vaccine

Another big question I’m getting is who pays for the vaccine and how?

During the pandemic, the federal government is paying for the cost of the vaccine itself. After the pandemic has ended, that will likely change, and costs for administering the vaccines and any booster shots will probably range based on the entity administering them.

Currently, we’re seeing a wide variety of responses from local insurance around pricing for the act of giving the vaccinations. The focus now seems to be getting as many people vaccinated as possible. Details about pricing should become clearer as time goes on, and Holmes Murphy will definitely be watching.

Right now, if your organization has a health plan, you should be discussing the cost issue with your insurance carrier or third-party administrator so you have a clear expectation of charges and can explain those to employees.

Employees without access to insurance plans should take a closer look at their local county Health and Human Services (HHS) website to see what options are available now, and what will be available when the national emergency ends.

Are COVID-19 Vaccination Incentives the Answer?

If you don’t want to mandate the vaccination but you’d like to encourage employees to roll up their sleeves, you might consider offering incentives. A day or two off to address any side effects, some monetary compensation, or other small but meaningful rewards are possibilities. However, an employer does need to be aware of the tax impact of those rewards. For example: Employees would be taxed on bonuses handed out for being vaccinated. (Another reason to consult with legal counsel before rolling out rewards!)

Careful consideration of your employees and their attitudes toward medical treatment, a focus on the type of business you have and how often employees must come into contact with members of the public for business purposes, and how progressive or paternalistic your culture is should all be taken into account when thinking about and/or creating your COVID-19 vaccination plan. With a little forethought — and guidance from your legal advisor — you should be able to craft a program that works for your business and for your employees.

If you have any questions or want further resource guidance, check out our Holmes Murphy’s COVID-19 Resource Center. You can also reach out to us.  We’re happy to answer any questions you may have!

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