HR Hotline: Managing COVID-19 Workplace Issues
The Lamont administration’s decision to change how COVID-19 vaccines are distributed in the state has a direct impact on employers.
CBIA HR Counsel Diane Mokriski says vaccinating people based on age should make it easier for Connecticut companies.
“It’s probably a weight off the shoulders of all you employer coordinators who have been diligently waiting by your computer for that email from saying you can upload your employee roster,” Mokriski said Feb. 24 during CBIA’s HR Hotline Live: Managing COVID-19 Workplace Issues webinar.
“You won’t have to worry about that anymore. It is not the employer’s job to upload a roster and it’s not the employer’s job to get the employees registered or vaccinated.
“We have a much more streamlined process now.”
While no longer responsible for registering their employees for the vaccine, employers should still encourage their workforce to get vaccinated, said attorney Vincent Farisello of Carmody Torrance Sandak Hennessey.
“You can be flexible with work schedules to allow people time to get the vaccine,” he said. “You can help make it easier for them.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance that employers can mandate the vaccine as long as they provide reasonable accommodations for employees who can’t receive it due to a disability or strongly held religious beliefs.
“It’s informal guidance,” Farisello said. “It doesn’t carry the force of law. It’s not even considered an agency regulation.”
In fact, a recent survey showed that only 6% of employers plan to mandate vaccines.
Another issue for employers is workers who refuse the vaccine.
Farisello said he heard reports that anywhere from 20 to 40% of people will decline the shot.
“Right or wrong, it’s not for us to decide, but what will you do?” he asked. “You have to come up with a game plan if you get a significant part of your workforce who says, ‘I’m just not doing it.’
“So then what? It puts you in a funny spot.”
Farisello said the typical advice he gives is to strongly encourage workers to get the vaccine as opposed to a blanket mandate.
“What goes hand-in-hand with that is an education campaign—providing employees with reliable information from the CDC and the state,” he said.
Another issue the webinar tackled is how to deal with workers who refuse to return to the workplace.
“This is the question we have gotten the most,” Farisello said.
He cautioned employers against letting their suspicions about why an employee doesn’t want to return to the workplace influence their decisions.
He also suggested an analytical approach—asking yourself about the necessity of having someone return to the workplace.
“We have to keep in mind that the state and the CDC are still recommending allowing employees to work from home to the extent that’s possible,” he said.
“I am not saying an employer can’t or should not return people to the office; I’m just saying it’s good business to be able to articulate the reason why we’re having everybody come back in.”
It could be because a particular industry was allowed to reopen, or because of a significant loss of productivity while people worked from home, he said.
Another concern employers expressed to Mokriski is their potential exposure to liability from a worker who refuses to follow CDC guidelines outside work and gets coworkers sick.
In that case, employers who follow CDC protocols—including social distancing, mask wearing, and cleaning—can’t be held responsible, Farisello said.
“The employer acted reasonably and did things that were necessary, that would reasonably be expected to happen, so I don’t think there would be a significant risk of liability there,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we can’t police what people do outside of work.”
Mokriski and Farisello agreed that employers who want to keep a record of which workers are vaccinated can, but should keep it protected and apart from personnel records.
CBIA further explores these issues in a March 1 webinar COVID-19 Vaccinations: Next Steps for Employers that’s free to CBIA members and CONNSTEP clients.
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