by Renee Mielnicki, Esquire
The COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-changing situation. While vaccines have brought some hope for change, they continue to raise questions about how certain issues should be handled in the workplace.
As we learned from our recent COVID-19 Employer FAQ blog post, employers can mandate their employees get vaccinated, of course with certain exceptions for religious and disability-related reasons. However, forcing the vaccine on employees can be tricky since it’s so personal. As of today, about 34.8% of individuals in the U.S. that are 18 years or older have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). Depending on what source you read, 20-25% of Americans do not plan to take the vaccine. Apply those statistics to the workplace and you can see the challenges this creates for employers.
For instance, employees who are vaccinated may want to know the vaccination status of their co-workers and their reasoning will vary. As an employer, sharing the vaccination status of your employees could cause challenges both from a morale and legal perspective. Its best to have a policy and practice that prohibits sharing this information. Employees could become disgruntled if this status is shared. Disgruntled employees are not as productive and often leave the company. In addition, this information may be considered confidential under some state and common law.
Where vaccination status is shared, some employees may refuse to come to work because certain co-workers are not vaccinated. This conflict can be minimized if employers keep this information confidential. The issue may still arise where vaccination status is shared among the employees themselves. In those cases, a best practice is to continue to follow all federal, state, and local public health guidance. It is best to communicate your continuing safety protocols to employees in hopes of alleviating their concerns.
Employers may wish to advertise that their employees are vaccinated so that customers and the public feel less at risk of getting COVID. These are risky representations to make because vaccine-related information is evolving and ever changing. The least risky path is to keep vaccination status private and continue to follow all public health guidelines.
As the numbers of new cases are falling and more people are getting vaccines, many states and municipalities are in the process of lifting previous orders related to COVID-19. For our Pennsylvania followers, you may already know that Governor Wolf will be lifting all COVID-related restrictions on May 31, 2021, other than the mask mandate. The Governor has said that he will lift the mask mandate once 70% of Pennsylvanians are vaccinated. While we don’t know what his new orders will look like or what their impact will be on employers, we imagine things will look different and will update you when more information becomes available.
If you have questions about COVID-19 and the workplace or have any other questions related to human resources issues, we will be happy to help! Contact East Coast Risk Management by calling 724-864-8745 or email us at email@example.com.
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