Updated 9/10/21

Small businesses with 100 employees or more may soon be required to mandate employee vaccines. That’s the top take away from President Biden’s newly released COVID-19 Action Plan. If the new rules are enacted businesses could also be required to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. These orders are expected to be challenged but if enacted could take effect within a few weeks. The administration is also requiring that federal workers and employees of federal government contractors be vaccinated. For more information on how to help get your employees vaccinated check out the U.S. Chamber Foundation's downloadable Employee Vaccination Guide.

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With over half of the American population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — and potential surges with the Delta variant strain — many employers are strongly encouraging or mandating in-person employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine (if they haven’t already). As a small business owner, there are several options to consider when mandating employee vaccinations.

Employer options for mandating employee vaccinations

Promote and encourage vaccines

Promotion and education about vaccines are two of the best ways to influence positive morale about the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine mandates at work.

Workplaces that encourage their employees to receive the vaccine, demonstrate the benefits and “practice what they preach” from the leadership team down to the frontline workers can build strong confidence and trust in the vaccine.

While education and promotion remain important, workplaces should also consider offering incentives for employees to receive a vaccine. Incentives like cash payments, paid time off and accommodations for vaccine appointments can help sway employees unsure about the vaccine for purposes other than trust in the science. For example, offering paid time off to receive and recover from the vaccine may help ease employees who worry about missing a paycheck.

Furthermore, employees should be aware of disadvantages and equity in their communities and offer accommodations like transportation to get to and from local vaccination clinics for employees who need it. [Read more: Incentives to Encourage Employees to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine]

Facilitate vaccine clinics

Employers mandating employee vaccination may want to consider hosting a vaccine event at work. While some locations or communities may still have a limited number of vaccines, it’s in a company’s best interest to host a vaccine clinic whenever possible to keep its workforce healthy, reduce absences due to illness and improve productivity and morale.

There are several methods for vaccinating workforces, including on-site options like existing health clinics, employer-run temporary vaccination clinics and mobile vaccination clinics. Small- and medium-sized organizations that do not have the resources to host a vaccine clinic on campus, have a workforce that is largely mobile or have workers with highly-variable schedules should consider off-site vaccination clinics at places like pharmacies, hospitals and community locations.

Establish policies for non-vaccinated individuals

For workforces who want to require vaccines but not terminate those who opt not to become vaccinated, establishing policies for non-vaccinated individuals may be the best option. At the federal government level, military and civilian personnel who are unable and unwilling to attest to their vaccination status will have to wear masks, socially distance, have their travel restricted and undergo regular testing.

‘Vaccinate or terminate’

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a violation of HIPAA or other legislation for employers to require employees to get the vaccine or ask for proof of vaccination. As such, some companies elect to adopt a “vaccinate or terminate” approach.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, has clearly stated that employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work.

Another part of this option is at-will employment states and additional exceptions. All 50 states are at-will employment states, meaning that an employer can terminate an employee at any time without warning — save for illegal or discriminatory reasons like termination based on gender, race or religion. In at-will states, it is within the employer’s right to terminate an employee if refuses a requirement to get the vaccine.

While employers can terminate an employee who refuses to comply with a vaccine mandate, they are not able to fire an employee who objects to the vaccination based on sincerely-held religious beliefs or medical reasons. Some religions prevent believers from getting vaccines and some medical conditions may be exacerbated by receiving the vaccine. As such, it falls to the employer to identify the accommodations it can make for the employee. [Read more: Mandating Employee Vaccinations? What You Need to Know]

How are large corporations handling employee vaccine mandates?

Many large organizations have started mandating vaccinations for their in-person employees. Here are seven companies and their approach to mandatory employee vaccines.

Delta Air Lines: Delta Air Lines isn’t mandating that every employee get vaccinated, but every new hire in the United States in May 2021 and beyond must have their vaccine. Effective May 17, 2021, Delta Air Lines will require all new U.S. hires to be fully vaccinated. While the airline won’t be putting in place a company-wide vaccination mandate, it feels the new rule is “an important move to protect Delta’s people and customers.”

Facebook: Lori Goler, the vice president of human resources and recruiting at Facebook, shared in an email with NBC that Facebook is “requiring anyone coming to work at any of our U.S. campuses to be vaccinated.” With more than 20 offices in America, implementation of the policy will depend on local ordinances and regulations. The company will have processes in place for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.

Microsoft: While Microsoft hasn’t asserted if it will extend its new vaccination policy to its retail stores or employees who have voluntarily returned to the office since the spring of 2021, the company shared that “it will require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests starting in September” 2021. Microsoft also delayed the full opening of its 50-plus U.S. offices until October 4, 2021.

The New York Times: Communicated in a company-wide email to employees, The New York Times informed staff members that the company will require proof of vaccination for any employee wanting to go into the office voluntarily. It also pushed back its full office return date and did not supply a new one.

Uber: The popular ride-hailing, food-delivery company told employees in an internal note that they must be fully vaccinated to return to physical offices beginning August 2. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi informed employees that “if you are not fully vaccinated, you’ll need to work from home until you are fully vaccinated.” The return-to-office date for the company was shared as well — October 25, 2021 — but will depend on local circumstances.

United Airlines: In August 2021, United Airlines announced that all 67,000 of its U.S. employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccination or risk termination. The company has already provided incentives like paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and has required new hires since June 2021 to be fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated employees have until October 25 or five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to one of the vaccines (whichever date comes first) to get fully vaccinated. After that date, any employee who does not submit an image of their vaccine card to the company will be terminated, except those with documented religious or health exemptions.

The Walt Disney Company: The entertainment and media conglomerate is requiring nearly all new employees to get vaccinated before heading to work. Said in part in an emailed statement, “Employees who aren’t already vaccinated and are working on-site will have 60 days [from the send date of the emailed statement] to complete their protocols.” Employees currently working from home must provide the company proof of vaccination before returning to work — with very limited exceptions. Learn more about mandating employee vaccinations in this CO— guide. [Read more: Requiring Employee Vaccinations? Here’s How to Communicate With Your Staff]

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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CO— is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Published August 11, 2021