What to Consider When Crafting COVID-19 Vaccine Policies

Should your association’s meeting staff be required to get vaccinated? Do you want to offer incentives to get employees to opt for a shot? Even though there is currently a limited vaccine supply, an HR expert says associations should start determining their policies surrounding COVID-19 vaccines now.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine has been elusive and difficult, as a recent Saturday Night Live sketch poked fun at. But that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever.

This week, President Joe Biden said the U.S. would have enough vaccine supply for every adult by the end of May. But associations shouldn’t wait until then to figure out their policies when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.

“Employers should be thinking now about what’s going to happen when the vaccine becomes widely available,” said Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s HR Knowledge Center. “They should already be starting to draft policies.”

First and foremost, policies should address whether organizations will encourage staff to get vaccinated or require it. SHRM surveyed organizations about their plans related to COVID-19 vaccination. While it is possible to require staff to get the vaccine, only 5 percent of those in the survey planned to require it, while 35 percent were unsure of their plan, and 60 percent did not plan to require it. SHRM expects many organizations to encourage employees to get the vaccine. Some even plan to offer incentives.

“They are offering things like paid time off, paid bonuses, gift cards,” Clayton said. She cautions, however, that it’s not clear if those types of incentives are appropriate. “We are still waiting on guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as to whether this is allowed or not,” she added.

What is definitely allowed is educating staff about the vaccine. “Gather the guidance and resources from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other health agencies so you can provide information to employees about understanding the benefits of getting the vaccine,” Clayton said. “That is probably the recommended form of encouragement—that education piece.”

Other policy considerations will vary depending on whether an organization decides to mandate the vaccine. If there is a mandate, an association must figure out how exceptions will work. “It should include things such as reasonable accommodations,” Clayton said. “What type of a process or procedure does someone need to do if they have a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or a sincerely held religious belief that would preclude them from getting the vaccination? You want to address that in a policy.”

Other questions for associations to consider: Will they pay for employee vaccinations? Will they give paid time off to employees to get vaccinated? Will the association give vaccinations onsite (as many did with flu shots) or recommend a specific third-party vendor for employees to get vaccinated? If an organization requires vaccination, what is the deadline for all employees to get vaccinated? What will be the deadline for new hires? Are there circumstances when the association will want proof of vaccination, even if it’s not generally required?

Clayton said vaccination policies can treat staff differently based on job functions. For example, staff who regularly work meetings and events might have a different requirement than those who do not. “As long as it’s job related, they should be able to say, ‘Yes, we want these employees who work with the public to get vaccinated, but those that work away from the public, we’re going to encourage rather than require,’” Clayton said.

As you’re developing a policy, a good way to figure out what might work best is to ask staff. “Put out an anonymous survey to see what their perceptions are of the vaccine and of who would get it and who wouldn’t get it,” Clayton said. “That way, you have an idea of what percentage of employees would get the vaccine.”

The survey could also ask those who expressed hesitancy why they were hesitant. “Is it because they want to wait until it’s out a little longer? Is it because of the side effects? Is it a disability? Is it a religious reason?” Clayton said. “Really try to understand from the employee side what concerns or reservations they have and determine what type of turnover you might have if, for example, you decide to mandate the vaccine.”

She added that understanding staff concerns related to the vaccine can help the association address them and perhaps help allay them. “Communication is key,” Clayton said.

What are some things your association is considering in its COVID-19 vaccination policy? Share in the comments.

(jonathanfilskov/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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