EEOC Provides Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) released updated information called technical assistance that clarifies whether or not employers can provide vaccination incentives for their employees. Read on to find out.
What is the New Guidance from the EEOC?
According to the new guidance from the EEOC, 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.
In the technical assistance, the EEOC confirmed, “Requesting documentation or other confirmation showing that an employee received a COVID-19 vaccination in the community is not a disability-related inquiry covered by the ADA.”
Under GINA, employers may offer incentives to employees who get vaccinated at an employer-administered site or show proof of vaccination from a third party (such as a pharmacy), as long as an employer does not acquire genetic information while doing so. Because the pre-vaccination medical screening questions for the three COVID-19 vaccines now available do not inquire about genetic information, employers may offer incentives to their employees for getting vaccinated.
However, COVID-19 compliance is complex as it is. With this in mind, requiring employees to provide proof of coronavirus vaccination adds another layer of difficulty for HR professionals. While employers can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, they should exercise caution when deciding to do so.
In an article written by attorneys at Much Shelist, P.C. and published in The National Law Review, the authors advise employers to be careful about asking employees why they didn’t receive the vaccine. While this appears to be a contradiction, it's actually a little trickier than it seems. Again, just because an organization is legally permitted to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be done.
Reminder: What is the EEOC, ADA and GINA?
The EEOC enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), among other laws. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, requires reasonable accomodation, and includes rules about employer medical inquiries. GINA prohibits discrimination of employees or applicants based on genetic information.
These legal requirements play a huge role in HR teams’ daily operations, so it’s important to note how they relate to vaccination guidelines for the workplace. It’s also important that employers check with their local state laws that apply.
Ways to Incentivize or Encourage COVID Vaccinations
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 phases 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
Ultimately, decisions about vaccine requirements should be made on a case-by-case basis; what works for one company may not work at all for another. It’s up to HR professionals and leadership teams to determine the best return-to-work plan and communicate it to employees with plenty of time before the actual date.
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