The Business Health Care Group hosted a very informative webinar that addressed questions that local employers may have as they consider a COVID-19 vaccination program for their employees.
There were seven knowledgeable panelists, including Jon Meiman, MD, Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist for Environmental and Occupational Health at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Lindsey Davis, Partner at the Labor & Employment & Practice Group at Quarles & Brady LLP.
Dr. Meiman discussed considerations for employers as they plan to vaccinate their workforce. He provided information from a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)/Wisconsin Department of Heath Services (DHS) survey about how Wisconsin employers are currently approaching vaccination. The public online survey was anonymous and had more than 4,000 respondents. Some of the key findings include:
- 54 percent of employers view workforce vaccination as extremely important; 21 percent as moderately important.
- 64 percent of the workforce was more than 80 percent willing to be vaccinated, according to employers who conducted worker surveys.
- Vaccine safety was the major concern for almost 90 percent of employees hesitant about getting the vaccine.
He shared three primary ways employers can encourage vaccination among workers: provide education, reduce barriers, and consider incentives.
To educate your employees, employers need to utilize trusted messengers and address vaccine efficacy and safety, while using multiple channels to communicate.
Employers can reduce barriers by supporting paid leave for COVID-19 vaccination in the community as well as for employees with side effects. They can also consider employer-sponsored vaccine clinics at their place of work.
Dr. Meiman also shared that there is a large body of scientific literature on vaccine incentives, and findings suggest that they are effective. In one study of 12,000 workers, incentive and education was the most effective for increasing flu vaccination, with incentives reducing unvaccinated healthcare workers by approximately 30 percent.
Other practical considerations of workforce vaccination include vaccine side effects, staggering vaccination, quarantine for vaccinated workers, and continuing workplace safety measures.
Attorney Lindsey Davis laid out three options for approaching COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace:
- Compulsory Vaccination Programs
- Employer-Encouraged Vaccination Programs
- Voluntary Vaccination Programs
The positives of a compulsory vaccination program include protection of the workplace and the community health; reducing the costs of absences, lost productivity, and long-run medical care; and defense against civil liability enforcement action. Employers who might consider a compulsory vaccination program include those in the healthcare, dining and hospitality, and travel industries, as well as educational institutions and daycares, customer-serving businesses, and businesses where employees work in close proximity.
The drawbacks of a compulsory program include potential employer liability related to the vaccine, development of an exemption process and consideration of accommodations, and disciplining and/or terminating employees for noncompliance. Employers who might not consider a compulsory vaccination program are those with union presence and those in less “high-risk” work environments.
The positives of an employer-encouraged vaccination
program include increased employee morale and retention; administrative ease; and less liability risk for discrimination claims. Employers who might consider an employer-encouraged program are workplaces that do not require close contact and workplaces that can accommodate remote work, but remote work arrangement is winding down.
Negatives of employer-encouraged programs include low compliance and the potential that incentives are deemed so enticing that they are coercive and/or discriminatory. Businesses with employees that have close contact with members of the public and/or vulnerable populations might not consider an employer-encouraged vaccination program.
A purely voluntary vaccination program avoids complicating factors associated with other vaccination programs, such as legal risks, administrative costs, and practical difficulties.
The shortcomings of a voluntary vaccination program include potential legal exposure, harmful business implications, and diminished employee morale and retention.
Employers who might not consider a voluntary program are those workforces with high risk of exposure – including healthcare, education, emergency response, public transportation, and food retail.
The information in this blog was taken from a webinar hosted by the Business Health Care Group on February 24, 2021, that addressed questions that local employers may have as they consider a COVID-19 vaccination program for their employees. See the entire webinar and view the presentation materials at https://bhcgwi.org/newsroom/past-summary-events/.