Vaccination records and requirements in the workplace aren’t anything new. Before COVID-19, we’ve seen them as recently as the H1N1 pandemic.
There are some key differences this time around. For one, during H1N1, healthcare workers received mandatory flu vaccinations. Given the broader impact of the COVID-19 virus, mandatory vaccinations will likely reach many more industries. And unlike previous vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines were released under an emergency use authorization.
It’s worth mentioning that employers are legally able to require vaccinations in the workplace. Furthermore, best practices suggest workplaces promoting and facilitating vaccines.
However, some of your team may not want to be immunized.
For the above reason, you need to know the ins and outs of keeping vaccination records and creating vaccination requirements to avoid potential issues. This way, you can ensure the safety of your team from COVID-19 without any negative repercussions.
Section 1: Examining Workplace Vaccination Requirements
Below, we’ll look at boundaries as an employer in mandating vaccines. And we’ll finish the section by going over OSHA’s guidelines on the matter.
Who Is Exempt from Mandatory Workplace Vaccination Requirements?
As an employer, the rules are mostly on your side to track or even require vaccinations for your team. Still, there are some issues you’ll want to keep in mind:
Per the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees with disabilities or strong religious beliefs against vaccines can avoid mandatory vaccinations. In this instance, employers must work to accommodate these issues.
That could mean allowing employees to work from home or wear a mask at the office to limit potential exposure to the virus.
Note that – according to the CDC – it’s rare for someone to have valid medical reasons for not taking a vaccine.
Someone refusing a vaccination based on an ADA-recognized disability must prove that their condition puts them at risk if they receive a dose. And any exemptions can’t put employers under undue hardship.
With religious beliefs, ethical or general concerns about vaccinations have nothing to do with religion in the eyes of Title VII. Beyond that, the employee must prove that their religion is sincerely against vaccines.
While you must be mindful, don’t let the rare exemptions dampen your efforts to get everyone immunized and feeling safe at work.
Managing Employees Who Don’t Want the Vaccination
Some of your employees won’t be thrilled at the idea of being vaccinated, or they might be 100% against it outside of religious reasons or disability.
A May 2021 Gallup survey showed that 25% of respondents said they wouldn’t receive the vaccine, primarily because of safety concerns.
While this number has been steadily decreasing, there’s still been a slowdown in rollouts because of anti-vaccine beliefs.
These issues might seem sticky, but they present you with an opportunity to lead the charge toward herd immunity.
For instance, providing educational materials will ease fears of the vaccine for some employees.
Also, you can make vaccines easily accessible, removing barriers for some of your team. An excellent example of this is workplaces using on-site flu shot clinics. You can do the same with COVID-19 vaccines.
Guidelines From the OSHA
On April 20 of this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released updated guidelines and considerations for employers mandating vaccinations.
As for the newer guidance offered by the OSHA, here are some crucial considerations:
- OSHA views adverse reactions to any employer-mandated vaccines as work-related.
- You must inform OSHA about any hospitalizations after an adverse response to a mandated vaccine within 24 hours of hospitalization.
- You must inform OSHA in the case of death due to a mandated vaccine within 8 hours.
- Employers who only recommend or incentivize vaccinations don’t need to record anything, even if they facilitate vaccine access.
While these guidelines put a lot of responsibility on the employers for enforcing vaccinations, know that adverse responses are exceptionally rare.
Moreover, while these are recent guidelines, the next section will show that adjustments are on the way to make vaccination requirements easier for employers.
Much like all governing bodies involved with COVID-19, OSHA’s guidelines are fluid and continually changing.
The OSHA doesn’t want to discourage workplaces from promoting vaccination, and rightfully so. After all, immunity and high vaccination rates are key to reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Remember, mandating vaccines is entirely legal. You just need to be mindful of OSHA’s guidelines and rely on your legal counsel to clarify any confusion.
Section 2: Collecting Employee Vaccination Records
In order to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce your business should consider tracking whose been immunized and who hasn’t.
Below are some of the vaccine processes workplaces currently use. We’ll assess their effectiveness and provide a verdict on which we think is best:
Don’t Ask, Just Mask
Some workplaces haven’t bothered to receive vaccination information from employees. They’ve instead chosen to enforce a health screening, masking and social distancing policy for their mixed immunity workforce. This policy treats vaccinated and unvaccinated employees the same.
When choosing this approach ensure proper health screening is in place and that you use reduced capacity for social distancing. This is crucial for safety and to meet regulatory requirements.
If you are worried that screening or enforcing capacity limits is cumbersome, Worksphere can help! Check out more on Worksphere’s capacity planning and health screening tools on our features page.
Ask for Vaccination Records, but Allow Choice
Giving your team the benefit of the doubt and letting them come forward with their vaccine records shows your trust. The advantage here is you’re empowering your people to make their own choices, all while incentivizing vaccines.
You can empower your team further by using Worksphere’s optional vaccination record tracking feature. This handy tool allows employees to record their vaccination status and immunity date. You can also require uploading an image of the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card.
This option is a happy medium and can be effective in a pro-vaccine workplace. For some individuals, knowing that the business is tracking immunization without requiring vaccines is too much of a half-measure, and they would rather WFH long-term to avoid coming into contact with unvaccinated co-workers.
Before allowing employees to stop masking and distancing, you can ask them to attest to their vaccination status. Certain states are even requiring this as part of business’ return to office plan (as of the writing of this article, Washington, California, Oregon, Hawaii, and New York all have some requirements around vaccine verification).
Moreover, you can ask whether an employee is vaccinated as long as there are no follow-up questions.
It’s even okay to ask for documentation from an employee to prove they’ve received their vaccinations. When asking for documentation it’s important to only ask for the immunization source showing the vaccine administration date(s) and ensure you tell employees you don’t need additional medical or family history information from them. Framing your request this way helps sidestep legal issues
As long as you confer with your legal team and ensure you’re following the correct steps for tracking, this might be your best option.
Worksphere’s vaccine record tracking feature can help you with this collection and keep you in compliance with employee data privacy regulations.
Section 3: What Do You Need to Know About Managing Employee Vaccination Records?
Once you’ve received vaccine information from employees, you must handle it correctly. Or else you might face severe sanctions.
Here’s what you need to know on this topic:
How Should You Store Employee Vaccination Records?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you must meet the ADA’s confidentiality requirements when storing an employee’s vaccination status.
What does this entail, exactly?
It means that you must keep a worker’s vaccination records separate from regular personnel files. To that point, vaccination records you must store in a different area than one that holds other confidential information.
Note that private employees must keep personnel and other employment records for a year after their creation. If an employer lets an employee go, they must maintain records for at least 12 months.
Do You Need to Document Side Effects?
As of April 2021, OSHA stated that you need to record adverse reactions to the vaccine if it is mandatory at your office. However, that doesn’t apply to easily treatable side effects that employees can manage with over-the-counter medicine.
On the other hand, symptoms after vaccinations incentivized by the workplace – even if the employer facilitated the vaccine – don’t need recording.
What Happens if the Employee Vaccination Record is breached?
The consequences can be steep for a vaccination record breach.
Depending on the breach’s severity and nature, you could face ADA confidentiality claims.
The worst-case scenario is a worker alleging that ADA-protected information was unlawfully disclosed. In this instance, they can seek punitive damages and compensation. There will be a cap on how much gets paid out, determined by the size of an organization. The largest companies will pay a maximum of $300,000.
Data breach notification laws extend across all 50 states, though the definition of protected information differs by the jurisdiction.
Recording vaccination status for your mixed immunity workforce or requiring vaccines can help keep your team safe.
By reading this blog and conferring with your legal team on this matter, you’ve given your business a significant boost to thrive in the new normal.