Now that there’s a vaccine, many companies are wondering if they are off the hook for any kind of safe space screening. As with most every other topic COVID has presented us with, there is no simple answer. Let’s explore it from two lenses: (1) Legal and (2) Cultural.
The legal argument for company-mandated vaccine status
COVID-19 vaccinations are a polarizing topic for many employees. Alissa Kranz, an attorney with Lieser Skaff Alexander in Tampa, Fla, feels that if a mandatory vaccination policy is not imposed, employees may allege that the employer has failed to provide a safe and healthy work environment, which is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. We stress the word may–there’s no presiding federal policy on this matter yet.
Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles, feels similarly: “Employers may require vaccines before employees return to the worksite if the failure to be vaccinated constitutes a direct threat to other employees in the workplace because the virus is rampant and easily transmitted in the workplace.”
Jody McLeod, an attorney with McLeod Legal Solutions PLLC in Charlevoix, Mich. also agrees. “The more likely it is that non-vaccinated employees put customers, fellow employees or the general public at risk, the more compelling the case will be for a vaccination mandate.”
Even if they are mandated, however, there are exceptions that must be accommodated for those that cannot be vaccinated because of disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs. The disabled set’s rights are covered by the ADA, but documentation from the worker’s medical provider is required to validate it. This means HIPPA is at play, and you must play by their rules.
The cultural argument for company-managed vaccine status
Alissa Kranz, the same attorney noted above, feels that the challenge is that what’s welcome to employees in one location might be unpopular at another site. “Certain employees may choose to no longer work for an employer, depending on whether or not a vaccination policy is adopted,” Kranz said. “This can result in business slowdowns and negative publicity.”
Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Excel Leadership Solutions in St. Louis, shares her take. “For some employers, implementing a mandatory vaccination policy makes sense, particularly for employees in positions that provide direct health care, caretaking of children and the elderly, or serving other populations at elevated risk from COVID-19. However, there are several important exceptions to a mandatory vaccine policy, making a policy that encourages—but does not require—vaccination easier to administer for many employers.”
Culturally, this holds water, as according to the Poynter Institute, polls have found that between 50 to 70 percent of Americans are willing to get vaccinated, a number lower than health officials would like. Reasons are varied, but most are rooted around the unknown short and long-term effects from a very new genre of vaccine. Many are in a ‘wait and see’ mode and new global research study from Pew unveiled that even a large majority of medical staff still want to be on the safe side for a bit longer.
Managing vaccine status with a fast pass
All of this begs the question of how to manage who has what vaccine status, why and what it means for the overall company policy. When 2 out of 10 people globally are ‘pretty certain’ that they won’t be getting the vaccine any time soon and legal policy is still at play, how does a company follow through on their duty of care from a both a risk and a logistics perspective? This will ultimately be up to their legal and HR teams.
To keep things simple, one way to manage the vaccine challenge is with a system that allows an employee record to be flagged as a ‘fast pass’ for a specified date range, an activity that could be limited only to approved HR administrators. With this approach, HR designees can agree to what merits a ‘cleared’ status and manage it accordingly. This means no personal health data would need to be stored under HIPPA mandates, and those that do opt for vaccines would be able to skip all or part of the entry screening process. A caveat is that this requires a more sophisticated software platform that can track and store and has a mobile app.To note, this is one of the reasons inReality took the path that we did–we saw Safe Space screening as a new norm for many verticals, not a short-term fix, and one that would require Enterprise management and a method to manage the other side of the pandemic.
A final question on this debate is why even have a screening process once the COVID scare is over? Again, up to every company to determine. Common sense would prevail, however, that we as a society have now learned the repercussions of co-mingling with crowds and, even if it’s not life threatening, who wants to be around someone with an active fever or that has been exposed to someone sick? Employers have gotten the memo that new expectations are emerging and that everyone plays a part in keeping the workplace as healthy as possible, Knowing that some people will come in even if sick, keeping a screening process in place serves an important purpose. Making sure that it’s as seamless and logistically friction-free then becomes critical, and doing so when vaccines are widespread can indeed be managed simply–if a proper management software is in place to do so.
InReality’s Learning Center is committed to sharing important guidance to help the industry navigate the complexities of the ever-evolving Safe Space landscape. The information shared is informed by experience working with many constituents and stakeholders. If you have a topic you would like addressed, please submit it to Laura Davis-Taylor at email@example.com for consideration.
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