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Communications Mar 09, 2021

How To Create and Communicate a Workplace Vaccination Policy

In this blog post, we’ll explore important considerations for developing a COVID-19 workplace vaccination policy along with three strategies other companies are using to encourage employees to get vaccinated.

One year ago this week, life as we knew it was upended when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The world—and the workplace—have changed dramatically since then. Things that were once prevalent in the office—shared workspaces, potluck luncheons, and packed meeting rooms—now make us cringe and want to reach for the hand sanitizer.

COVID-19 has presented new and uncharted challenges for businesses, employees, and their families over the past year. Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope amid a pandemic that has tragically taken the lives of more than 500,000 Americans and 2.5 million people around the world. With three high-efficacy COVID-19 vaccines—from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson—now authorized by the FDA for emergency distribution and being administered to those at highest risk, there is growing optimism that an end to this pandemic is now in sight.

Widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine plays a vital role in ensuring a safe and healthy return to work. And while the vaccine rollout has come with no shortage of well-publicized hiccups and challenges, nearly 70 percent of employers are optimistic about the 2021 job market—in large part because of vaccine availability.

More than 90 million doses have been administered in the U.S. since vaccine distribution began in December, equal to 17.7 percent of the total U.S. population. With more than 2.2 million shots now being administered every day in the U.S., the possibility of a full return to work seems almost within reach.

And for many, that’s certainly a welcomed relief. Employers are anxious to resume more normal business operations, the government is eager to re-establish economic stability, and many employees struggling with social isolation and work-from-home fatigue are ready for a change of scenery.

But there’s more to a COVID-19 return-to-work strategy than reconfiguring office space and writing up quarantine guidelines. As employers determine when and how to reopen their facilities, how your organization approaches employee vaccination will be an important consideration.

When developing a return-to-work strategy, you’ll need to consider COVID-19 vaccination questions like:

  • What will your workplace vaccination policy be?
  • Can (or should) you require employees to get vaccinated?
  • How will you encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Should you incentivize employees to get the vaccine?
  • How will you communicate with employees about the COVID-19 vaccine?

In this blog post, we’ll explore important considerations for developing a COVID-19 workplace vaccination policy. You’ll discover three strategies other companies are using to encourage employees to get vaccinated, as well as how modern emergency communication technology can help your organization improve employee vaccination rates.

COVID-19 Vaccine Challenges in the Workplace

A survey of global executive leaders by Gartner found that as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available over the coming months, 90 percent plan to encourage employees to get the COVID-vaccine, but not require it.* A big reason for this is that mandating employee vaccinations brings with it its own cache of uncertainties, complexities, and risks. After all, most employers have never had to decide whether to mandate a vaccine because of a public health threat.

Graphic showing results from recent Gartner survey regarding employer vaccination policies

The same Gartner study reveals that “57 percent of legal leaders in December and January told us (Gartner) the biggest vaccine-related risks faced by the organization are liabilities related to internal vaccine policies—or to employee refusals to comply, such as a hospital worker not taking the vaccine.” Meanwhile, 46 percent say they, “are also bracing for other challenges, including “employee sensitivity to organization vaccine policies which could lose their trust and damage engagement.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has historically taken the stance that employers should encourage, rather than mandate, employees getting vaccinated. In the EEOC’s recently revised pandemic guidance, the agency concludes that employers’ workplace vaccination policies can generally mandate that employees receive an FDA-authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine. There are, however, recognized protections that must be afforded to employees seeking exemption from vaccination requirements due to medical conditions or religious beliefs.

How to Encourage Employee Vaccinations

Between the legal risk of mandating employee vaccinations—and the safety risk of having an unvaccinated workforce—it would seem employers are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In reality, there are several meaningful steps employers can (and should) take to encourage, incentivize, and facilitate employee vaccination—without ever having to require it.

Provide incentives

Some companies, especially those that have a large frontline workforce, plan to pay their workers to get vaccinated. Dollar General, for example, is offering employees four hours of base pay to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines is offering monetary incentives to employees through its health and wellness-benefits programs. The company is also giving ground crew workers and flight attendants the equivalent of a day off to get vaccinated.

By providing a financial incentive for employees to get vaccinated—through a bonus, cash stipend, hourly paid time, or even a gift card—employers can boost workers’ willingness and ability to get immunized. Offering paid time off and shift schedule adjustments for employees to attend a vaccination appointment can help eliminate the financial stress of taking time off work to get the vaccine. To offset the financial burden of vaccination, 67 percent of executive leaders also report that their companies plan to cover or subsidize the cost of COVID-19 vaccines for employees.

Make getting vaccinated convenient

Another way to improve employee vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for employees to get vaccinated. In years past, employers have encouraged workers to get flu vaccines by organizing on-site flu shot clinics—making it free, fast, and convenient to get vaccinated while at work. Taking a similar approach, Amazon—which has 800,000 workers in the U.S.—announced it has an agreement with a health care provider to vaccinate workers at its Amazon fulfillment centers, AWS data centers, and Whole Foods Market stores. And although it’s unlikely most companies will be able to offer on-site vaccines to employees for at least the next few months, every company can still make it easier for employees to get their shots.

Helping workers overcome common obstacles to getting vaccinated, such as lack of child care or transportation, can make it possible for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Target, for example, is covering the cost of a Lyft ride, up to $15 each way, for workers to get to vaccination appointments. To help employees get vaccinated, 77 percent of companies also plan to share resources with employees on where and how they can make an appointment in their local community to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Educate employees on health benefits

Last but certainly not least, educating employees can help encourage those that might be on the fence to get vaccinated when they are eligible. As Walmart’s Executive Vice President of Health & Wellness, Dr. Cheryl Pegus has said of Walmart’s workplace vaccination policy, “We’re educating essential workers and all associates on getting the vaccine as soon as they are eligible. We are strongly encouraging all associates to get vaccinated but are not mandating anyone receive the vaccine nor are we providing incentives at this time.”

To combat vaccine hesitancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several COVID-19 vaccination toolkits available to help employers build confidence in their workforce about getting the vaccine. In its toolkit for essential workers, for example, the CDC includes a variety of templates, printable posters, and vaccine fact sheets employers can use to educate employees, raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination, and address common questions and concerns.

Additionally, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published guidance for employers regarding the expectation for reasonable accommodations and non-discrimination as specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Using Technology to Improve Vaccine Policy Communication

Using modern emergency communication software, organizations can easily and dramatically improve the way they communicate with employees about the COVID-19 vaccine and their workplace vaccination policy. A system that offers multichannel, two-way messaging—along with global threat intelligence and survey functionality—can be an effective tool in encouraging employee vaccination and facilitating a safe return to work.

Sharing educational resources about the COVID-19 vaccine, communicating your organization’s vaccine policy, and distributing public health information about vaccine availability in your area can all be made more efficient with mass notification software. By sending critical notifications across multiple channels—including email, text message, phone call, and mobile app—every employee will receive targeted, timely, and accurate information.

As one example, California-based Paradise Valley Estates—a 76-acre, nonprofit senior living community home to more than 500 residents—recently used AlertMedia’s emergency communication software to increase participation in its on-site COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Paradise Valley Estates used AlertMedia to communicate important information to residents about vaccine logistics and access. Residents were assigned specific appointment times based on their neighborhood, and AlertMedia was used to send messages to residents letting them know when they could arrive at the vaccination site.

Emergency communication software with integrated global threat intelligence enables organizations to more effectively monitor and communicate about COVID-19 hotspots and any resurgence of new strains, as well as stay on top of evolving CDC guidance. And a solution with survey functionality can help your organization solicit feedback from employees about their intent to get the vaccine, their desire to return to work, and their thoughts on the workplace vaccination policy you introduce. Using surveys, companies can also conduct employee health and symptom screenings to ensure the safety of unvaccinated employees returning to the office.

Bellicum Pharmaceuticals is one company already using emergency communication software to perform daily employee health pre-screenings at its worksites. Each morning, a daily survey is sent to all of the company’s employees scheduled to work in-office that day asking if they have had any known exposure to or are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. Employees can then respond using a survey link within the message—a process that takes employees three seconds. If people don’t respond, the message can be automatically resent to only those employees until a response is received. These real-time survey insights also allow the organization to swiftly notify employees in the event of a suspected or positive case of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Creating Your COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Strategy

While many organizations (and employees) are looking forward to “getting back to normal,” the workplace we knew before COVID-19 is gone. There’s no un-ringing this bell, and companies will need to evolve their return-to-work strategy to adapt. With three COVID-19 vaccines now being distributed, it’s time for every organization to determine how they will manage and communicate about employee vaccination in the months ahead.

As with most employee issues, communication is key when it comes to encouraging your people to get vaccinated while not having to require vaccination as a condition of returning to work. With a well-designed communication strategy backed by modern technology, your organization can boost vaccine confidence and uptake to ensure a safe, supportive, and inclusive workplace for all employees.

* Gartner, Executive Pulse: Enterprise Vaccine Strategies Are Still Shaping Up, January 2021

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