In the three weeks since President Biden announced he’d directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a national vaccine mandate for employers with 100+ employees, business leaders have been working to determine a path toward compliance.
Like most of the COVID-19 response thus far, the vaccine mandate once again forces employers to “build the road as they drive on it.” As executives and HR leaders continue to set up compliance protocols and infrastructure, here are X things for them to consider before the rubber hits the road, so to speak.
Earmark funds for COVID-19 testing in your 2022 budget.
While OSHA has not yet issued details, we know the mandate stands to affect more than 80 million U.S. employees, who must get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing to be eligible to work. Census Bureau statistics show 11% of the vaccine-eligible population is hesitant to receive the vaccine, so employers must plan for how to pay manage testing costs for employees who refuse it.
And by extension, they’ll need to consider potential costs for productivity losses around employees who are awaiting test results or out of the office due to infection and/or contact tracing protocols for infected individuals. A national mandate also boosts strength for employers considering a health plan surcharge for unvaccinated employees. Delta Airlines and other large employers are enacting such a surcharge, much like a penalty for tobacco use, to help offset claims costs or provide employees an incentive for vaccination.
With the 2020 shift to remote work, though, there’s certainly a question about what makes an employee susceptible to the mandate—and its associated costs—at all. As Ben Conley, Partner at Seyfarth Shaw, LLC, recently remarked, “A single meeting out of your house, in the office, or with a customer…would seemingly trigger this mandate.”
Currently, more than half of Americans appear to support some kind of vaccine mandate, ranging from 51% - 60% in three recent polls. This support potentially aligns with the total number of Americans who are in the process of vaccination, as the CDC now reports that 75% of eligible Americans now have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Identify employee groups affected by the mandate.
Will all/any employees who are 100% remote, who never enter an office or workplace also be subject to the vaccine mandate? Or does the rule solely apply to in-person employees?
Create a vaccination/testing deployment plan. Consider how to deploy testing and who will be responsible for tracking and updating weekly results. Regarding vaccines, consider whether to hold on-site vaccination and testing clinics and how to handle vaccine exemptions.
Determine your tracking – Without proper tracking in place at the outset, it will be difficult to prove compliance. Be sure to vet the security and privacy policies for any options, specifically as it relates to securing PHI (personal health information) captured. Additionally, you will want to ensure that a tracking system can “talk” to your current systems for managing health plans or payroll/leave with secure data transfer. You may need to communicate updates or provide reminders through the system. Employees who require an exemption should be able to record that in this system. And if you are considering a surcharge or credit depending on vaccination status, the system should be equipped to capture and pass that data as well. Finally, vaccinated employees may want to be able to securely “store” their vaccination record/card in a mobile app or in the system.
Craft your mandate messaging. Be sure to focus on how the mandate helps improve workforce safety, and be clear about timelines, available vaccine/testing options, contact tracing and quarantine protocols for infected individuals or those awaiting test results, and consequences for noncompliance.
Vet solutions for workplace vaccine/testing tracking
Seeing an opportunity, multiple companies have begun rolling out solutions to assist employers in tracking vaccine and testing information/results. For example, IBM’s Excelsior Pass, rolled out in New York as part of the state’s reopening plan, is one of the tech solutions in this quickly growing market.
Thus far, the Biden administration has held firm that the federal government will not play a part in vaccine monitoring nationwide, so it will be up to individual employers to assess and determine how to collect and protect vaccine data.
At Businessolver, we provide the technology and innovation required to help you stay in compliance and provide a simple user experience for your workforce. Our Vaccine Tracker is built into our system to provide a simple, secure way for both administrators and employees to log, update, and monitor vaccine and testing information. See the overview here.
Stay tuned at the state and national level for vaccine mandate information
Employers may continue to track the state-level support for private employer COVID-19 mandates at this website, as well as the status of state employees, health workers, school faculty/staff, and vaccine passports.
There are more questions than answers currently regarding employer mandates. As we continue to cover this unfolding workplace story, we are featuring this topic on our bi-weekly compliance chat, Brews with Bruce. This week, Bruce and Ben will cover workplace mask mandates and take viewer Q&A. Submit a question for them here, and watch archived episodes of Brews with Bruce on demand.