How Will Businesses Adapt to COVID-19 Booster Shots?
With boosters now available for all three vaccines being administered in the United States, the question of whether or not business will need to require boosters must be asked. What current measures would influence the decisions to create new regulations? Is this cause for concern for many businesses? Read on to learn how you can stay prepared as new legislation may be on the rise.
*This article has been updated to reflect the full details of OSHA's emergency temporary standard released on Nov. 4.
Booster Approvals and Requirements
As of September 17, 2021, the FDA has approved usage of a Pfizer vaccine booster in individuals who are at high risk for Covid-19 either due to age or health reasons, as well as front line workers, such as doctors or teachers.
On October 20, 2021 the FDA approved the usage of a Moderna booster as well as a Janssen Booster (Johnson and Johnson). To go even further, they also gave the go ahead for individuals to “mix and match” vaccines of their choosing. In order to receive a booster, individuals need to wait at least 6 months after completing the full round of their initial vaccine for Moderna and Pfizer, or 2 months following the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Concerns For Businesses
On August 13, OSHA released its updated guidance, explaining its purpose is:
to help employers protect workers who are unvaccinated (including people who are not fully vaccinated) or otherwise at-risk (as defined in the text box below), including if they are immunocompromised, and also implement new guidance involving workers who are fully vaccinated but located in areas of substantial or high community transmission.
On Sept. 9, President Biden announced that companies with 100 or more employees will be required to maintain full employee vaccination, or proof of a negative test result on a weekly basis. As of Nov. 4, OSHA has officially announced that the regulation is going into effect. Companies with 100 or more employees will have until Jan. 4 to see that all employees are vaccinated or they will be required to provide negative test results weekly.
Employers must pay employees for the time it takes to get their vaccination and provide paid sick leave for any employees experiencing side effects. This is a requirement under the OSHA ruling. The rule however does not require employers to compensate employees for the time it takes to get tested should they choose not to get vaccinated. Health care workers are not given the option to provide negative results meaning vaccination is required.
OSHA states that all unvaccinated workers must wear face coverings while working. Those employees who are working from home or in a remote location where no other employees or co-workers are present, will not be required to abide by the ruling. However, should a remote employee need to report to the workplace, they must show a negative test result at some point within the 7 day marker of returning.
Many organizations have already implemented their own COVID-19 policies. So long as the policies maintain the OSHA ruling as a basis, organizations are free to adjust their individual policies.
When considering vaccination requirements it is important to note that an employee will not be considered fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after they received their final dosage of said vaccine. Once initially vaccinated, they will then need to wait an additional 6 months to receive (or be considered eligible for) a booster.
How Can Business Remain Prepared?
Currently employers will only need to concern themselves with employees who fall under the FDA ruling as being qualified for a booster vaccine. Booster eligibility is currently limited and will not apply to a large portion of the population at this time. This said, it would be prudent for companies to begin formulating a plan should these guidelines become less restrictive.
One way of doing this would simply be to add an additional guideline relating to booster shots. A good place to do this would be in the organization's COVID-19 policy.
For many organizations it may be difficult to monitor booster status. Many organizations have policies which only require employees to attest to having received a vaccination, as opposed to providing a copy of their vaccination cards. In this case it can be extremely difficult to track and enforce booster vaccinations.
Once OSHA releases it’s guidelines, employers may need to revisit their COVID-19 policies. It’s expected that OSHA’s guidelines will mirror the Executive Order for federal employees, which requires document collection such as CDC vaccination record cards, immunization records, or medical records.
If not requiring a full copy of vaccination card, then requiring employees to attest to the specific dates they received their vaccine, can be a simple amendment that would account for potential new legislation. And because requesting this information is not prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act, organizations are free to request this information at their discretion.
Regardless of the method, impacted employers will need to examine their COVID-19 policies to remain compliant. These policies will need to incorporate the complexity of booster shots, eligibility for booster shots, and employees having to wait either 6 or 2 months after their last vaccine, depending on the manufacturer. Organizations will also need to keep employee privacy in mind should they need to collect proof of vaccination.
Template: Requiring COVID Booster Vaccine
If your organization decides to make coronavirus vaccination and/or booster shots mandatory as a condition of employment, this decision should be communicated to employees as clearly as possible. Use the following template to alert teammates about this policy:
- Vaccination Cards: Starting [date], please provide a scanned copy of your proof of vaccination, either using the HRIS or by emailing [name] at [email].
- Vaccination Deadline: By [date], all team members will be expected to provide proof of vaccination to HR. If employees elect not to get vaccinated, they will be subject to weekly COVID testing or termination of employment.
- OSHA Safety Standards: According to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers are required to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Based on information from the CDC, we believe vaccines satisfy this condition.
- Other Protective Measures: We are actively monitoring the coronavirus situation in our region. The CDC currently recommends that vaccinated people wear masks in areas of high transmission. We may implement mask-wearing policies in the workplace to adhere to these recommendations.
Could We See Changes to COVID-19 Surcharges?
Some employers are considering an additional insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees, according to Forbes and health benefits consultancy Mercer. The surcharge could be anywhere from $20 to $50, and is intended to encourage employees to receive the vaccine voluntarily.
As the booster is rolled out, it is possible we could see these surcharges take on a larger role. Should employees refuse the booster, then organizations may need to prepare for an increase in surcharge or a change in policies.
Implementing insurance surcharges for unvaccinated employees is complex, and employers are still waiting on more guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).
Can Companies Offer Incentives For a Potential Booster?
The EEOC previously provided guidance related to vaccine incentives, saying; employers are legally allowed to offer incentives to employees for voluntarily providing proof of vaccination.
Additionally, employers who are administering vaccines to their team members can offer incentives, but the incentives cannot be coercive. It’s important to note that employers must keep information regarding employees and their vaccinations confidential.
There are a few tips that HR can consider to incentivize vaccinations instead of mandating them. These include:
- Communicate on an internal social forum about the ease and simplicity of the process
- Develop a return-to-office plan built around vaccination rates in the area
- Offer one-time bonuses for employees who get vaccinated
- Host onsite vaccination clinics
- Remind employees that they can take PTO to get the vaccine