Employers & the COVID-19 Vaccine
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Employers & the COVID-19 Vaccine

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Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been given. As time goes on and the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic becomes history, it seems likely that the COVID-19 vaccine will become a part of our regular lives in some way.

At the time of this writing in 2021, however, employers are asking pertinent questions about their role in this initial surge of vaccinations. Questions such as:

  • Can an employer mandate that employees get vaccinated?
  • Can an employer offer incentives to employees who get vaccinated?
  • What privacy and regulatory concerns are involved?
  • How do COVID-19 vaccinations relate to an employer-sponsored health plan?
  • Should an employer offer vaccinations on-site?

This post will highlight issues related to these kinds of questions and offer some basic strategies for supporting COVID-19 vaccinations among your employees.

Mandates, Incentives & On-Site Vaccination Programs

Employers can incentivize COVID-19 vaccines in various ways and even mandate them in certain situations. Employers can also choose to provide vaccines to employees on-site.

However, it is vital to evaluate these approaches carefully if your business or organization is considering them.

Aside from the challenges posed by simply developing and implementing such approaches, keep in mind that policies and programs like these would require compliance with numerous regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They would also be in the purview of regulatory bodies from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Here are three basic scenarios that should serve to highlight the possible complexity involved:

Scenario 1: Vaccine Mandate

A company requires its employees to be vaccinated. Upon hearing the news:

  • One employee objects based upon his sincerely held religious beliefs, which are protected under Section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Another employee says her underlying disability prevents her from being vaccinated, citing her rights under the ADA.
  • Union members ask whether the company doesn’t first need to bargain with the union before imposing the vaccine mandate on its members.

All of these employees have legitimate concerns that would need to be addressed by the employer in the mandate policy they put in place.

Scenario 2: Vaccine Incentive

An organization offers an incentive as part of its wellness program to employees who choose to get vaccinated. However:

  • One employee objects that he can’t be vaccinated due to a health condition, giving him no chance at the incentive, which violates his rights under HIPAA.
  • Multiple employees argue that since the incentive is part of the wellness program, which is part of the company health plan, the vaccine should be covered as part of the company’s health plan.
  • Another employee gets the vaccine, but says her privacy rights were violated by the pre-screening questions she was asked.

Once again, these are valid concerns to consider before enacting a vaccine incentive program.

Scenario 3: Vaccinate On-Site

A local business holds a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on-site. Afterwards, the following issues arise:

  • Several employees complain that they’re suffering adverse effects from the vaccine and argue that workers’ compensation should cover them.
  • One employee reports that he was asked family medical history questions that violated his privacy rights.
  • Another employee didn’t get vaccinated before doses ran out and argues that the business didn’t follow public health guidance in prioritizing which employees got vaccinated first.

As with the first two scenarios, these are also all possible concerns.

Overall Support Strategy

As stated above, your primary strategy when it comes to supporting COVID-19 vaccinations among your employees should be to exercise care when considering policies and programs regarding a mandate, incentive or on-site vaccination program. Your legal and human resource teams should be involved in this complex decision.

Even if you don’t take one of these approaches, keep these other basic support strategies in mind:

  1. Be flexible when it comes to following public health guidance regarding vaccinations, as this is presently in constant flux.
  2. Communicate with employees about the importance of getting vaccinated and other important information regarding COVID-19.
  3. Provide resources for employees to learn more about COVID-19 and getting vaccinated.
  4. Keep the goal in mind: Keeping employees as safe as possible and returning to business operations that are as close to pre-pandemic normal as possible.

Making the Complex Simple

Employers want to support their employees when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations. We hope this post has brought some of the related issues to light and given you some helpful strategies.

If you’d like to speak to a risk advisor more about this or any other topic related to COVID-19, please contact us.

Saginaw Bay Underwriters has made every attempt to ensure this information has been obtained from reliable sources. Image via Shutterstock. Current as of: February 2021

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