Return-to-Work Vaccine Considerations

Return-to-Work Vaccine Considerations

In recent months, COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available. As a result, organizations may be adjusting their reopening strategies and updating their workplace health and safety protocols. If you are assisting in workplace reopening strategies or are simply curious about return-to-work vaccine considerations, it’s important to stay informed. Here, we provide an overview of the COVID vaccine, workplace vaccination programs, and employee vaccine considerations.

COVID-19 Vaccine Overview

There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines available and recommended in the United States: Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson. Moderna and Pfizer require two doses several weeks apart; Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose. Research has indicated that all three vaccines are safe and effective in both preventing COVID-19 and mitigating the virus’s severity if you do become infected.

All three available vaccines can lead to side effects, most commonly after the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. They are typically mild and dissipate within a few days. Frequent side effects include arm soreness at the injection site and symptoms including fatigue, muscle pain, nausea, chills, and fever.

Once you are fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that you can resume many of your pre-pandemic activities, such as engaging in social behavior without social distancing or wearing a face mask. With the wide availability of vaccines, most employers are encouraging employees to receive the vaccination, offering incentive programs, or establishing workplace vaccine programs.

Workplace Vaccination Programs

In an effort to return to pre-pandemic workplace environments, improve public health and safety, and achieve herd immunity, the CDC is encouraging organizations to facilitate employee vaccination. Current guidance recommends that small and medium organizations promote offsite employee vaccination and that large employers consider offering onsite employee vaccination programs

If your organization has a large workforce, predictable scheduling, and adequate space for a socially-distanced clinic, developing a workplace vaccination program is an effective way to facilitate workplace health and safety. However, if your organization is small or midsize, has varied worksites, and variable employee schedules, offsite vaccination may be a better option.

If you are considering a workplace vaccination program, it’s important to do the following:

  • Include management, HR, employees, and labor representatives in the planning process
  • Solicit guidance from your local health department
  • Consider using a community vendor or vaccine provider that can provide safe vaccinations, monitor employees for adverse reactions, and properly report data to immunization registries
  • Offer vaccines at no charge to all employees during work hours
  • Stagger vaccinations to avoid worker shortages due to vaccine appointments or subsequent side effects
  • Prioritize vaccinations for older and at-risk workers or those with underlying health conditions
  • Ensure that you engage a third-party medical provider to handle confidential medical information

To learn more about workplace vaccination programs, review the recent CDC guidance and OSHA’s 16-point return to work guidance.

Employee Vaccination Considerations

Regardless of your organization’s vaccine policies, there are several things to keep in mind as you modify workplace policies to accommodate employee vaccinations. Common considerations include the following:

  • Time Off for Vaccination. Consider offering time off for employees to attend vaccine appointments and to take sick leave if they experience adverse reactions following vaccination. This is particularly important if you have mandatory vaccination.
  • Accommodations. Some employees may refuse vaccination due to medical considerations or sincerely held religious beliefs. If you are encouraging or requiring vaccination, review guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and ensure that reasonable accommodations, such as work from home policies, can be established for workers who cannot be vaccinated.
  • Adverse Reactions. Consider allowing days off for those experiencing vaccine side effects. Additionally, if your organization mandates COVID-19 vaccinations, employees may be able to file worker’s compensation claims for illness or injury. Following vaccination, employees may return to work so long as they feel well, do not have a fever, and do not have outward COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Supportive Policies. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s return to work guidance, ensure that your organization is offering protections for employees at higher risk, such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions. This includes providing reasonable accommodations.
  • Ongoing COVID regulations. OSHA recommends that workplaces do not discriminate between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. All employees returning to the workplace should follow the same protocols regarding social distancing, face coverings, and sanitization regardless of their vaccination status.

If your organization chooses to require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in order to return to the workplace, these factors are particularly important to consider.

Encouraging Employee Vaccinations

The CDC and other health organizations recommend that employers encourage employees to get vaccinated and establish supportive procedures and policies. This can help workplaces achieve herd immunity, avoid employee sick leave, and prevent outbreaks within your organization.

Strategies for encouraging employee vaccination can include informing them of vaccination sites and considerations, addressing vaccine skepticism, providing incentives for vaccination, and offering time off in the event of side effects. It is also important to remind employees to receive their second dose of the vaccine, as many Americans are skipping their second dose.

Additionally, it's important to be aware of legal considerations; in recent months, many organizations have faced unsafe workplace lawsuits regarding COVID-19 procedures. To avoid COVID-related litigation, your organization should ensure that you maintain OSHA compliance, follow CDC guidance, and consider EEOC policies.

Deploy LiveSafe to Faciliate Safe Reopening

Regardless of your organization’s vaccine policies, Vector LiveSafe can help you safely reopen and maintain organizational health and safety. With features such as broadcast messaging, employee reporting, two-way messaging, and customizable resources, LiveSafe helps employers communicate COVID-related policies and procedures and enables employees to report questions and concerns. 

Vector LiveSafe also offers several COVID-specific features, such a daily health survey and one-touch access to CDC COVID-19 guidance. During the pandemic, LiveSafe can help your organization remain in compliance with OSHA’s guidance for return-to-work prevention strategies and protect your workforce from illness. Once the threat of COVID-19 has dissipated, LiveSafe can also be used to prevent and address workplace embezzlement, lone worker threats, mental health crises, and more.

ALEXANDRA BRUNJES

Alexandra Brunjes has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.

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