Employees and the COVID-19 Vaccine: How to Encourage Vaccination Thoughtfully

Employees and the COVID-19 Vaccine: How to Encourage Vaccination Thoughtfully

Employers have a fine line to walk with it comes to encouraging vaccination without enforcing it.

The coronavirus has brought many challenges to workplaces and employers over the last year. The most recent challenge, however, is encouraging employees to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19 without actually enforcing the shots.

Many employers around the country are working on ways to incentivize their employees to sign up for the vaccinations, but it can be a fine line to walk when it comes to employees and their health. OH&S reached out to Chelsea Smith, a labor and employment attorney at the national law firm Hall Estill. Smith has been helping employers navigate the details surrounding vaccines and the workplace.

“If an employer wants to make a vaccine mandatory, it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity or justified by a direct threat,” Smith said.

Instead, Smith believes incentives are a great place to start when it comes to motivating employees to get vaccinated.

"I think encouraging employees to get the vaccine and offering incentives is the best practice rather than a mandate,” Smith said. “It is much easier to just encourage employees to get the vaccine than mandating it.”

Companies like American Airlines have offered their employees additional paid time off for those who choose to get their COVID-19 vaccination. This vaccine bonus is something that Smith advocates for.

"I prefer PTO over incentives,” Smith said. “If an employer gives an incentive, they should know if they have employees who won’t get the vaccine because of a sincerely held religious belief or a disability. Those employees should still be given an opportunity to earn the same incentive.”

The benefit to giving employees a choice between vaccinating themselves or not is that companies could save money on costly litigations down the road. According to Smith, there could still some sticky situations employers should be aware of."If an employer meets the standard to mandate a vaccine, they must still allow exemptions for disability and sincerely held religious beliefs and if they don’t, they could be liable under the ADA or Title VII,” Smith said. “Also, employers should be careful about asking why employees didn’t receive a vaccine—that question could be subject to the ADA and it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. Additionally, there could also be issues if an employer mandates a vaccine and the employee has an adverse reaction.”

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