Heads up HR pros: You finally have a clearer picture of how the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate will affect you.
Employers with 100 or more employees need to put together a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy by January 2, 2022. That is, unless you require employees to get vaccinated or get regular tests and wear a face covering at work. That’s according to OSHA’s new emergency temporary standard (ETS).
However, you don’t have to pay for the testing of unvaccinated employees or for their face coverings.
The mandates will likely come with a touch of unrest in the workplace, though. About 60% of employees say vaccine requirements and discussion about them have caused contention at their company, according to a new Qualtrics report.
HR role: Lead with empathy
“Vaccine mandates are politically polarizing and have become an emotional issue for employees and their families,” said Sydney Heimbrock, Chief Industry Advisory for Government at Qualtrics. “That’s why, leading with empathy will be key to creating the environment of trust and mutual understanding we need to successfully navigate this new workplace challenge.”
Many HR leaders might breathe a sigh of relief, finally getting some direction on the mandate. But don’t plan on that for long: Nearly 60% of employees in the Qualtrics study support the mandate. And they’re ready for you to implement it.
“Now it’s up to company leaders to quickly implement the new standards with as little disruption as possible,” Sydney said. “With OSHA’s published standards, everyone now has the clarity they need to clearly communicate expectations and create processes that employees can easily understand and comply with.”
Even with some uncertainty, HR leaders can be hopeful the vaccine mandates won’t lead to more turnover.
“I expect we’ll continue to see very high uptake of vaccines at employers with vaccine mandates, and a relatively small number of employees who will leave their jobs to avoid vaccination,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, MD, Population Health leader at Willis Towers Watson.
Part of the reason: Most of you are ahead of the curve.
“Employers have played an important role in protecting their employees and the community,” said Levin-Scherz. “The majority already offer paid time off for vaccination and for adverse effects from the vaccine – as will now be required.”
Here’s more detail on the mandates from our knowledgeable colleagues at Safety News Alert.
The ETS “covers employers with 100 or more employees – firm or company-wide – and … requires employers to provide paid time to workers to get vaccinated and to allow for paid leave to recover from any side effects,” according to the Department of Labor.
You’ll also have to:
- determine each employee’s vaccination status, get acceptable vaccination proof, and maintain records and a roster of their status
- require employees to give “prompt notice” if they test positive for COVID-19
- remove COVID-19 positive employees from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status, and they can’t return until they meet required criteria
- test unvaccinated workers. Employees who aren’t fully vaccinated will need to test at least weekly (if they’re at the workplace at least once a week) or within seven days before returning to work (if they’re away from the workplace for a week or more), and
- make sure “each employee who has not been fully vaccinated wears a face covering when indoors.” They’ll also need one “when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.”
What employers don’t pay for
You don’t have to pay for testing unless “other laws, regulations, collective bargaining agreements or other collectively negotiated agreements” require it. And you don’t have to pay for face coverings.
Dates to know
The mandate is effective once it hits the Federal Register. That’s scheduled for November 5, 2021.
Employers need to comply with most of the vaccine mandate requirements within 30 days of publication. From there, you’ll need to comply with the testing requirements within 60 days (January 4, 2022).
This vaccine mandate is also a proposal for normal rulemaking for a final standard. OSHA will ask for comments on all of the ETS and whether it should adopt it as a final standard.
OSHA also asked for comments on whether employers with fewer than 100 employees should also be covered by vaccine mandates.