Right now it’s more important for employers to educate and update their workers on the status of the COVID-19 vaccines than it is to draft a return-to-work vaccination policy.
That’s the consensus of a virtual summit discussion panel hosted by the National Safety Council (NSC).
NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said it’s important to keep in mind the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are still being used on an investigational, emergency use authorization basis, without a full biologics approval license. Bottom line: It’s still going to be a few months before it’s established how effective the vaccines are.
“We have to temper some of our enthusiasm and understanding with where we are at in … the early vaccination era,” he said.
Howard recommended referring to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention COVID vaccine webpage.
The director of global safety and health of Jacobs Engineering, Catherine West, called employer mandates to get the two-shot COVID-19 vaccination (except for healthcare and child care settings) “a slippery slope” that will require careful consideration from leadership because it’s going to be “a demanding and emotional topic.”
“We have workers that are exposed to raw sewage, yet we can’t mandate that they take the hepatitis vaccine for their own health,” she said, adding that the only legal requirement is to provide information on the exposure health risks for employees and their families. “At the end of the day, it becomes a personal choice between their own religious beliefs, or in conjunction with their primary care provider, on what they choose to do.”
As for the COVID vaccine, she said, “Do we move to the point, if we make it mandatory, that you have to be vaccinated before you come back into the workplace? Is it an ethical statement to say that we’re going to prevent you from being able to work and provide for yourself and your family because you choose not to get the vaccine?”
Depending on your industry, instead of committing to a vaccination policy right now, it’s probably wiser to simply encourage employees to get the vaccine when it becomes widely available.
Trusted source of info
Finding portals and methods for sharing accurate information with employees (and their family members) about the vaccine is an important task for employers, said Dr. Keita Franklin, chief clinical officer for Loyal Source Government Services.
In those communications, it’s also a good idea to encourage vaccination for anyone in a COVID high-risk population, such as older adults, pregnant women, nursing home and healthcare workers, and those with certain medical conditions.
Because the pandemic continues to be a critical work safety issue, now may be the time to reach out to your communications, HR and/or IT departments and ask if there’s anything they need help with in the effort to keep your employees up to date.
Impact on the workplace
Work might not ever go completely back to the way it was before the pandemic. For example, nimble adaptations to remote work will have a lot of companies reconsidering the necessity of making staffers report to the same workplace.
According to Howard, the vaccine is going to have an impact on the workplace as well.
While it’s a step in the right direction in getting the pandemic under control, the vaccine could potentially complicate workplace safety culture because of a “hybrid workforce” of both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers.
Management issues are sure to arise from having vaccinated and unvaccinated workers at the same site, Howard said. So now’s the time to proactively assess how your operations could be affected and notify the appropriate managers.