Question:

We run a mid-sized company.  Our management team read your December 21st post about mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies https://workplacecoachblog.com/2020/12/mandatory-covid-vaccinations-the-rules/. Now that vaccinations are starting, we’re considering a mandatory policy for safety reasons.

What do we do if our employees refuse to get vaccinated? Several dozen employees have stated they don’t want the vaccine, as doctors don’t know enough about the vaccine’s long-term side effects. They point out that the Food and Drug Administration sanctioned the vaccines through an emergency use authorization procedure and rushed the vaccines through.

How are other employers handling this? 

Answer:

As a management team, you’re not alone in your concerns. Surveys by both the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Pew reveal that 21% to 24% of U.S. adults “will not get the vaccine” and don’t believe that more information will change their minds.1, 2 This resistance stems from an overall lack of trust in the vaccination process and our government and from political reasons.

Here’s what you need to consider, and what many employers are choosing:

Reasons for requiring vaccinations

Many employees won’t feel safe until they know their co-workers have received the vaccine. Some customers may be more willing to do business with companies that require employees to receive vaccinations.     

Employers have responsibility under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to ensure a safe workplace for employees. An employer’s failure to take necessary steps to protect their workforce might result in productivity loss, compensation claims, and other legal penalties and challenges.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance issued December 16, 2020 gives employers the ability to establish a mandatory vaccination policy if employees remaining unvaccinated would pose a direct threat to coworkers or customers.3

As one example, one of my remote-site colleagues experienced a COVID threat on January 8th after an unvaccinated dentist hygienist who had been in my colleague’s mouth for forty-five minutes on January 7th showed COVID-19 symptoms.

Employers that require vaccinations as a condition of employment need to ensure their requirements are both job-related and a business necessity. Employers need to ensure their polices comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal and state anti-discrimination laws (in which religion is a protected category) and any other state or local workplace laws and regulations.4

Reasons not to require mandatory vaccinations

Employers already offer policy exemptions to employees who fear the vaccine might exacerbate established disability or medical conditions or for whom vaccination goes against their religious beliefs. Employers may elect to respect the views of employees that express other personal, social, cultural, or political concerns.

man with fireworks

Employers may elect to respect the views of employees that express other personal, social, cultural or political concerns.

Employees who have avoided an infection by being fastidious in using personal protective equipment and following other safety measures may feel they don’t need vaccinations to remain COVID-19 free.

Employers may worry that a policy may increase their liability should an employee have an adverse reaction to a vaccination. Further, some union contracts may prevent mandatory vaccines.

 Employer options

Since my December 21st post appeared, I’ve received calls from eighteen employers. Most of them plan to strongly encourage their employees to get vaccinated.       

Some employers may provide employees educational resources to ease their fears, offer cash incentives to get vaccinations, or may offer employees paid time off to receive the vaccination.

Finally, while employers can require mandatory vaccinations, those I’ve spoken to have chosen to leave the vaccination decision up to their employees.

           Personally, I’m choosing vaccination. We’ve had close to four hundred thousand deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. to date, and no deaths, that I know of, from the vaccine. We’re all navigating uncharted waters and we have to choose.

1https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/12/03/intent-to-get-a-covid-19-vaccine-rises-to-60-as-confidence-in-research-and-development-process-increases/

2https://www.ebri.org/docs/default-source/fast-facts/ff-368-cehcscovid-10nov20.pdf?sfvrsn=a05e3a2f_4

3 https://www.natlawreview.com/article/eeoc-guidance-covid-19-vaccinations-what-now-employers

4https://www.employmentlawworldview.com/eeoc-publishes-guidance-on-employer-mandatory-covid-19-vaccination-policies-us/ 

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at https://workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach/ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.  www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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8 thoughts on “Many of Our Employees Refuse Vaccinations

  1. This is a real concern of mine, as an employee. I used to get a flu vaccine yearly, and usually had a mild reaction to the shot, but in 2015 I had a severe reaction to the H1N1 vaccine and ended up in the emergency room. My doctor at the time told me I was not a good candidate to ever receive the flu shot again. I have a chronic underlying medical condition which reduces my immunity. I have significant concerns about COVID- I absolutely believe it is real, and a real threat. But- after reading about how much higher the adverse reaction rate is to the two COVID mRNA vaccines currently on the market, I am opting not to receive either of those vaccines. I am waiting to see if one of the more common types of vaccines in the works will have a lower incidence of adverse reactions, and will talk to my doctor about those then. But if an employer tried to force me to be vaccinated in order to keep my job, I’d leave. I have the right to make my own decisions about what is best for my health.

  2. One thing that seems to be missing in people’s understanding of the protection the vaccine will give is that it is not yet known whether the vaccine will totally prevent infection with Covid or whether a person could still have an very mild asymptomatic case. There just hasn’t been enough time to get the information that could confirm either way, so, for the time being at least, everyone who has been vaccinated must be considered to still be a possible source of infection.

    1. DC, you raise an important issue. I plan an update to the COVID vaccination issue based on your and other’s comments.

      1. Good! I’m not trying to get into the vaccine fray, just wanting this to be out there so once people are vaccinated they will still know they need to continue w precautions for the safety of others until the data is clear one way or the other.

        1. Totally understood. I was thinking of noting your, Geraldine and Dee’s comments in tomorrow’s update, but I won’t include yours. I’ve checked in with one of the other several commenters. My policy is never to surprise a guest who comments unless I first check with him/her:)

  3. Unless people have a valid medical reason for not getting the vaccine, it should be mandatory. It’s unreasonable to ask employers to have to negotiate this quagmire. It’s no better than asking businesses to be the front line of mask enforcement, which puts any employee who deals with the public in a law enforcement role!

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