According to a Tufts University survey, six in ten of those surveyed are now vaccinated against COVID-19. However, almost 40 percent of the unvaccinated respondents said they won’t get the vaccine. Only 28.5 percent of the remaining unvaccinated respondents said they will get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the future, with the remaining unvaccinated respondents unable to decide whether they will take the vaccination. With vaccine hesitancy a concern, how can employers encourage more people to get the vaccine?
It is important to understand why some view vaccines skeptically in order to overcome vaccine hesitancy among employees. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center attributes vaccine hesitancy to a number of factors:
- The first is safety. Since the vaccine was developed faster than most vaccines have been previously, many individuals are concerned about reactions, side effects and quality assurance. More can be read from the CDC VAERS Report.
- The second reason has to do with the vaccine’s effectiveness, and how well it works against the coronavirus.
- The other reasons for hesitancy are due to things like religious beliefs, vaccine phobias and current health issues of the unvaccinated.
This phenomenon is not isolated to the United States. Based on a global survey of 32 nations that Johns Hopkins cites, 98 percent of Vietnamese would get the vaccine, while only 38 percent of those in Serbia would get the vaccine once it’s available.
Navigating Vaccinations in the Workplace
Requesting a Vaccine Exemption Due to Religious Beliefs
Businesses that fall within the purview of Title VII (Civil Rights Act of 1964), must accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance unless it causes an undue hardship on the business.
The CDC says that once a company is aware of a worker’s “sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance [that stops him from accepting the flu shot], the employer has to provide a reasonable accommodation [except if it causes] an undue hardship.” While this refers to influenza, the reasoning behind it applies equally to an employee expressing their religious objection to a COVID-19 vaccination.
Accommodations for Disabled Employees
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers employers in the private sector and state and local governments that employ 15 or more workers. The ADA offers guidance for employers when an employee requests to be exempt from a COVID-19 vaccination due to a disability. This Act says that employers can implement a workplace standard specifying that a person cannot “pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.”
If, however, this workplace standard either sorts out or will likely sort out a disabled person from meeting the workplace safety standard by being unvaccinated, the employer must demonstrate that such person without a vaccine would pose a direct threat of risk to another person in the workplace that cannot be reduced by reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC believes a direct or proximate threat exists from the unvaccinated person through four tests: length of the danger, the severity of and the type of harm that could occur, the chances of the potential harm that will happen, and proximity of the real harm.
When it comes to determining if a reasonable accommodation exists, the EEOC lists three criteria: the worker’s professional responsibilities, if there is a different job the worker could transition to in order to make the vaccination less necessary, and how serious it is to the company’s function that the worker is vaccinated.
How to Encourage More Vaccinations
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce cautions that for employers who are contemplating mandating their workers take the COVID-19 vaccination, state law varies on how far they can go. However, a good way to get employees vaccinated is by encouraging and not requiring vaccination. Forcing employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination might make workers look for new employment or face a lack of motivation. Depending on the state laws, a vaccine mandate from an employer might lead to a legal battle if employees refuse to get vaccinated or, in rare cases, if an employee dies from the vaccine. One way to incentivize employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine is by offering them a cash payment to do so. Average incentives range from $50 to $500, with most being $100.
Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many strategies employers can try to help get their employees vaccinated against COVID-19. One recommendation is to have management explain to employees why it’s important to get the vaccination by creating flyers, posters and other forms of communication when staff is entering and leaving the building.
Offering workers, the ability to get vaccinated onsite could encourage people who are on the fence, especially after they see their co-workers get vaccinated. One part of the American Rescue Plan, which passed in 2021, as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) outlines, permits businesses to claim tax credits if they give their workers paid time off to get vaccinated. This tax credit is eligible for employer reimbursement through paid sick and family leave. It also provides an employer tax credit if employees need time off to recover from any post-COVID-19 vaccine side effects.
Businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for this tax credit for paid sick and family leave that occurs between April 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021. This includes for-profit, tax-exempt organizations and some government employers. Self-employed taxpayers also are eligible for an equivalent tax credit.
Taking the time to encourage workers to get vaccinated, learning how to navigate certain aspects of employment laws and state laws, and making sure to maximize one’s business balance sheet are all essential tools to make the most of 2021 and set up an even better 2022 fiscal year.