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A recent survey found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. employers plan to require employees to prove they have been vaccinated for COVID-19. But employers must proceed with caution to avoid violating an individual’s right to refuse to be vaccinated because of a medical reason, disability or sincerely held religious belief.

The survey, conducted by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, found that 65 percent of employers plan to offer incentives for employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, while 63 percent will require proof of vaccination. In addition, overall, 44 percent of employers plan to require all employees to be vaccinated, 31 percent will encourage employees to be vaccinated and 14 percent will require some employees to be vaccinated, according to the survey, which was released in April.

Although employers have the right to mandate vaccinations, Human Resources management would advise them to be cautious. We want to tread carefully here.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers some protection to employees who decline to be vaccinated because of a disability or medical reason. Recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said vaccinations can be required of those with a disability or medical reason, but the employer would have to show that the unvaccinated employee poses a direct threat to the health or safety of that individual or others and that the risk cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers also must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who choose not to be vaccinated because of a sincerely held religious belief, unless the accommodation causes an undue hardship.

Although the EEOC has said the vaccination is not prohibited or limited by the ADA, employers must be careful about the questions they ask during pre-screening, according to an article in HR Magazine, a publication of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Workers resist vaccination

Many workers say they don’t intend to be vaccinated. A survey conducted by SHRM in February found that 40 percent of U.S. workers said they probably or definitely wouldn’t be vaccinated. Of those respondents, 70 percent said they would not be vaccinated even if it were required by their employer.

If employees fail to comply with a vaccination mandate, 42 percent of employers would not allow the employee to return in person to the workplace, while 35 percent said they would consider disciplinary action, including termination, according to the Arizona State University/Rockefeller Foundation survey.

One of my clients – a business in the food industry – would like to have all the company’s employees vaccinated, but management has decided to leave the decision up to the employees.

Have a conversation

If you have an employee who doesn’t want to be vaccinated, you should analyze whether you feel having that unvaccinated employee puts the individual or others at risk. If so, have a private conversation with the employee to explain that because your business takes the workers out into the field, you would like employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and their families.

Be empathetic.  Recognize that your conversation may not change the employee’s view.

Vaccinations for public employees

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has said vaccinations should be mandated for all public employees because they interact with the public. Those who choose not to be vaccinated should lose their right to serve in the public sector, she said.

Commenting on Boston Public Radio, Healey’s remarks followed reports of vaccine hesitancy among state police and corrections officers in Massachusetts. A Democrat, Healey may seek election as governor next year.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has not taken steps to mandate vaccinations for public workers.

If first responders don’t want to be vaccinated, they will have to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and others.

Liability

Whether employers can be held liable for secondary COVID-19 exposure hasn’t been decided by the courts, but it isn’t likely, according to SHRM. A lawsuit against Amazon in which an employee’s relative contracted the virus and died was dismissed by a court in New York. Employers, however, are responsible for taking steps to protect their employees from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

Negative impact

Firing an employee who refuses to be vaccinated could expose your business to legal action. How you treat your employees reflects on your business and it could have a negative effect. Consult Human Resources for advice.

In some cultures, people wear masks when they have a cold. The U.S. and other parts of the world have been a bit lax in public health safety. We should wear masks and stay 6 feet apart to protect ourselves and others. It’s important to do our part, but not criticize those who don’t take precautions. I hope the pandemic has raised consciousness about public health safety measures.

Guest appearance 

Tune in to my radio show, “Connections Count,” Monday, May 17 for my chat with Steve Messino, Chief Acquistion and Retention Officer at Citara Systems. The show airs at 1 p.m. Mondays on Unity Radio 97.9 FM.  You also can find the show on Unity Radio’s website at https://www.wuty979fm.org/monday.

I’m always interested in hearing from people who would like to be guests on my show. Email me at connectionscount1@gmail.com.

50+ Job Seekers Group programs

Funded by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and managed by Massachusetts Council on Aging, our grantor, the 50+ Job Seekers Group, in collaboration with MassHire Bilingual Workshops, offers sessions the third Wednesday of the month, from 1 to 3 p.m. Advance registration is required for the workshops, which are presented in both English and Spanish.

All workshops and networking sessions ae virtual.

The Interactive Workshop Series schedule is:

  • First and third Mondays, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
  • Second and fourth Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Second and fourth Fridays, 1 to 3 p.m.

Greater Lowell Workshops & Networking Group:

  • First and third Wednesdays, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

 

G2G Networking Sessions:

  • First and third Tuesdays, 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Speed Coaching:

  • Second and fourth Mondays, 10 a.m. to noon.

 

Guest Speaker Series sessions, which also require advance registration, are held the second and fourth Thursday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon. Our June sessions are:

  • Panel event: Reinvention After 50+, Thursday, June 10.
  • Age-Friendly Employer Event: Interview Practice, Thursday, June 24.

The virtual doors open 15 minutes before the program starts. Pre-registration for first-time participants and advance registration is at https://50plusjobseekers.org/outreach/registration/.

You will receive an email about the 50+ Job Seekers workshops if you’re already registered with the program.

Got questions?

I may have answers! To contact me, download my digital business card by texting HRPRO to 21000 or email me at melody@melodybeachconsulting.com.

AFFILIATED ORGANIZATIONS

Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA)
Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA)
Webster Dudley Business Alliance (WDBA)
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
PARWCC The Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches Woman in Business (WIB)
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
BNI Referral Champions Worcester Chapter
Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
50+ Job Seekers
Massachusetts Councils on Aging (MCOA)
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
Human Resources Management Association (HRMA) of Central Massachusetts
Women's Information Network (WIN)
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce

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Melody L. Beach Consulting Group, Human Resources, Southbridge, MA