HR teams played an important role in keeping employees safe during the past year. But as vaccines become more widely available, they’re being tasked to evolve company policies yet again to reflect new workplace needs.
So how should employers handle vaccinations? What protocols need to be in place before people come back to the office, and what should companies do to stay attuned to employee needs? To find out, we asked Lattice’s Resources for Humans community to share their thoughts and approaches to workplace vaccination policies. Here’s what they had to say:
Paid Time Off
With 69% of the public planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s no surprise that employees may need to book vaccination appointments during typical business hours. While this might result in fluctuating work schedules, HR leaders suggest that teams anticipate and support this need by encouraging employees to take advantage of flexible paid time off policies.
“We are encouraging employees to utilize our minimum vacation policy to go and get their vaccines,” said Caitlin Cuesta, RfH Ambassador and People Operations Manager at Screencastify. “I love seeing our employees marking their OOO on the calendar for vaccine appointments!”
Besides doing right by their employees, companies that encourage vaccination during business hours may also qualify for financial incentives. Aiming to offset the costs of employee absences due to vaccinations, the Biden administration offers a tax credit to employers who allow employees to take time off for vaccination appointments and associated recovery periods.
“Our company is small (less than 500 people), so we are also voluntarily using the emergency medical leave provision authorized in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to give employees paid time off. The ARPA added provisions for paid leave related to vaccination and any ill effects after vaccination. Our company gets a tax credit equivalent to the employee’s salary for the amount of time taken off. Our employees have found this really helpful,” said Marissa Steketee, HR Manager and Senior Consultant at Sapere Consulting.
As states and cities start reopening, businesses need to consider the priorities and concerns that exist around workplace vaccinations. Building a reopening plan is a massive undertaking, and HR teams know that major decisions around workplace policies can’t be made in isolation.
“Return-to-work is a complex decision for us as a consulting firm because we have staff who may want to be home, but clients who are beginning to ask about returning to in-person meetings and engagements,” shared Aaron Smith, Chief Operating Officer at OMNI Institute.
Employees have been anticipating this moment for a long time. Many of them have made significant lifestyle changes and are likely highly invested in how their company is making decisions around new work protocols. To craft policies that are effective and considerate of workforce nuances, companies are actively seeking employee input through the use of return-to-work surveys.
“We launched a survey to gauge who intends to get the vaccine and who cannot for medical or religious reasons — we made sure to check with our employment lawyer on these details — and are planning to create accommodations and plans based on the results,” said Rachael Crouse, Director of Talent and Culture at Ammunition.
Just because vaccines are increasingly available doesn’t mean that people are ready to transition to pre-COVID norms. For much of the population, remote work has been a much-needed change, offering the flexibility to pursue lifestyles that were previously unattainable. With almost 40% of employees preferring to continue working from home, HR teams need to be flexible in supporting a new kind of workforce.
“Right now, since we're still primarily distributed as a company, going into the office is optional for most people, and we strongly encourage WFH as we have limited office capacity,” said Anita Lim-Fritz, RfH Ambassador and Senior Director of People & Talent at Mythic.
Some companies have embraced the new world of work and have even opted to support employees by making the changes of the past year permanent.
“Working from home will remain an option for everyone now in perpetuity, and all of our staff have full geo-flexibility now,” Smith said.
If your company does decide to encourage vaccinations, it’s important to present employees with the time and space they need to feel comfortable and confident in their decision.
“We have a couple of folks wanting to talk to their doctor first — this is a great recommendation to make for folks if you are encouraging vaccines — and we aren't in a rush to return,” said Megan Lamberti, Human Resources Manager at Cahill Contractors.
Vaccination is a sensitive topic requiring a sensitive approach to communication. To preempt any potential misinterpretation or confusion, HR leaders recommend being as transparent as possible in explaining why and how your company came up with its vaccination policies.
“The best communications plan is consistent with messaging and cadence, but diverse when it comes to channels and resources,” said Debbie Field, Vice President of The Grossman Group.
If your team used an employee survey to gauge priorities, share the results directly with your workforce to validate the reasoning behind vaccine-related decisions. If your organization is following CDC guidelines, cite the trusted sources that were used to inform new protocols. By proactively addressing any gray areas around how the workplace will operate, businesses can empower employees to make informed decisions on whether or not they want to get vaccinated or come into the office.
Lastly, show employees that you are receptive to individual needs by creating an anonymous channel for open feedback around vaccine policies and being prepared to have difficult conversations.
“Make sure employees feel heard and that you close the loop on questions. Gathering feedback and encouraging conversations can actually backfire if employees feel like what they have to say isn’t taken seriously by leaders. That is why ongoing communications — versus a one-time update of news — is critical for complex topics that cross over legal, ethical, and personal boundaries,” Field said.
Many businesses are hesitant to require employee vaccinations because of the risk of alienating their employeesworkforce. At the end of the day, getting vaccinateding is a personal choice, and forcing employees to do so may fuel can create a toxic work environment fueled by resentment, HR leaders shared.
“There are a lot of challenges with mandating employees to do anything,” said Nancy Rothbard, Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Any boss will tell you, it’s a lot more about persuasion than telling.”
Rather than mandating vaccines for all employees, 65% of U.S. employers are planning to offer incentive programs that encourage employees to get vaccinated and share proof of vaccination for record-keeping purposes. These incentives can come in variousa variety of forms, from monetary rewards and bonuses to free services and extra PTO.
“We have implemented a vaccine incentive program of giving $100 bonus to everyone who gets the vaccine and sends us over their record so we can still keep track of the percentage of people in the company that have been vaccinated,” Lim-Fritz said.
If your company chooses to offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated, be sure to do the necessary due diligence required from a legal perspective. While incentivizing vaccinations isn’t prohibited by the law, there is no clear guidance on the extent to which companies can compel employees to get vaccinated or disclose personal health information. To strike the right balance, HR teams should consider seeking legal input on the type and value of employee incentives being offered to employees.
After over a year of upheaval and uncertainty, the world is finally starting to move toward a new “normal.” Transparent communication between employers and employees is crucial to ensuring everyone is on the same page and staying healthy at work and at home.
HR teams, in particular, play a major role in ensuring a smooth transition into the post-vaccine era of work. To learn more about what it takes to build a successful reopening plan, check out our list of return-to-work survey questions or join our Resources for Humans Slack community of over 10,000 HR professionals.