Connecticut employers who have yet to register their essential workers for a COVID-19 vaccine should do so now.
The importance of employers registering essential workers with the state's Vaccine Administration Management System was among the numerous issues addressed during CBIA's COVID-19 Vaccinations: What Employers Need to Know webinar.
Hosted by CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima, the Feb. 9 webinar featured epidemiologist Krista Veneziano from the state Department of Public Health, employment attorney Floyd Dugas of Berchem Moses PC, and David Banach, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor of medicine with UConn Health.
DiPentima and Banach are members of Gov. Ned Lamont's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group.
Connecticut has adopted a tiered approach to vaccinations. While essential workers are included in the current Phase 1b tier, they will not be scheduled for vaccinations until at least mid-March.
The state also has yet to finalize its definition of frontline essential workers, estimated to be about 325,000 employees, including many in the manufacturing sector.
DiPentima noted that the state's definition of essential workers for the vaccine rollout may not necessarily match the definition used last year in relation to pandemic-related business restrictions.
Only those who live or work in Connecticut are eligible to be vaccinated in the state.
To register employees, employers will need an individual email address for each essential employee, Veneziano said.
“If a husband and wife work for the same employer, each would have to have their own email address because if you have the same email, you won’t be able to make two first-dose appointments,” she said.
Employers should create a roster of eligible employees, including individual email addresses, in an Excel spreadsheet and save it as a CSV file to upload to VAMS, she said.
“There is an employer coordinator user manual and if you look at page 11 it will tell you more about the roster uploads,” Veneziano said.
Employees can provide employers with their personal emails. Employees with no email address should create one.
Those unable to use a computer can call the state's Vaccine Appointment Assist Line at 877.918.2224, although Veneziano said it’s best to access the online system.
She also urged employers and everyone else to be patient.
The state is receiving only around 60,000 first dose vaccines per week.
“We’re trying to figure out the best way to roll it out so people are not frustrated,” Veneziano said.
“If we say all [1.4 million] go ahead and make appointments, the first few thousand will get their appointments and everyone else will get frustrated.”
Nearly 200 business leaders tuned into the hour-long webinar that provided answers to 68 vaccine-related questions.
For example, Banach said, even if you’re vaccinated, you should still wear a face mask and observe COVID-19 protocols.
“While we’re still gathering that information from clinical trials as well as the use of these vaccines, the current recommendations are to continue implementing the preventive measures—the masking, the distancing and all the other measures that we’ve been implementing,” Banach said.
Dugas said employers, in general, can require vaccinations, although not in a union setting without bargaining.
Dugas said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looked at guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "and really, in some ways, kind of bent, if not threw out, some of the rules and essentially said, 'yes you can require employees to get vaccinated.'"
"Also you can require them to tell you if they have been vaccinated and require them to tell you if they’ve been tested and the results," he said.
ADA, Unionized Workplaces
Dugas said those steps won’t violate the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“So they’ve really smoothed the way, if you will, for employers if they want to mandate vaccinations,” he said.
It will be different in a unionized workplace setting.
“You have to deal with the National Labor Relations Act and the obligation to bargain over terms and conditions of employment,” Dugas said, advising employers in that situation to “be cautious as you proceed.”
While employers can mandate a vaccine, Dugas said employers may want to consider encouraging employees to get vaccinated by offering a perk.
If you are a manufacturer with workers in close proximity to one another, you may want to mandate vaccinations, Dugas said.
“On the other hand, if you have a situation where a lot of your folks are working remotely and from home, maybe you don't mandate it,” he said.
Of course, in a union setting, it would have to be negotiated, he said.
If an employee is terminated for refusing to get a mandated vaccine or not following social distancing protocols after getting vaccinated, that person will likely be able to collect unemployment, he said.
“I would be shocked if someone wasn't allowed to collect,” Dugas said.
“You could argue willful misconduct but knowing our system they would provide them with the benefit.”
Banach said an individual who has had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine.
“There is some evidence of immunity in the first 90 days or so after contracting the virus,” he said.
“The key is that the vaccine helps boost the level of immunity and likely makes that immunity durable—it lasts over a longer period of time.”