Workplace Considerations and Covid-19 Vaccine
The first doses of the highly anticipated Covid-19 vaccination produced by Pfizer were recently administered to health care workers in the State of New York. Up next, the FDA is expected to provide emergency-use authorization for the vaccine developed by Moderna. Based on early studies, both vaccines are reported to be more than 90% effective in the prevention of this novel Coronavirus. These vaccines along with treatments being produced by several other companies are considered critical to ending the pandemic and providing much needed relief to healthcare workers being pushed daily to the brink of exhaustion.
Many health care facilities already require that workers be vaccinated against illness and some states have passed laws that require it. But what will release of the Covid-19 vaccine mean for companies in the manufacturing, retail and office segments or other industries now treading into unknown waters? U.S. employers have the right under the law to mandate vaccinations, but will they?
Companies are in the early stages of developing a response but inoculation is considered the key to returning critical infrastructure to full capacity. U.S. Courts have largely ruled with hospitals in mandating that workers receive vaccinations as long as reasonable exemption policies are enacted. However, outside of health care, this type of mandate has not been common.
While a vaccination mandate may be legal, it may not be the best course of action for every employer and each will likely need to decide among various courses of action: recommended for all, strongly encouraging participation or an absolute mandate. Employers that mandate vaccination must still accommodate employees with health conditions or drug interactions that make the vaccine dangerous for them. They must also recognize the rights of individuals that hold religious, moral or ethical beliefs against vaccines. Employers need to develop a plan now for accommodating these beliefs as they are presented and to ensure they do not present a health risk to other employees. Employers should plan to launch internal communication campaigns encouraging staff to get both the Corona virus and seasonal flu vaccination and address issues of accommodation. Employees want to know what controls will be in place to keep them as safe as possible if they are required to return to work.
So what questions should be considered as you develop your plan? The following are not exhaustive but must be part of the discussion:
- How will you continue to accommodate social distancing;
- What type of documentation will be required for medical exceptions;
- Will the employer pay for vaccinations or consider providing a bonus and;
- How will the plan be communicated?
Effective vaccine policy development can support employee’s well-being and promote workplace safety but even the best of plans may lead to litigation from employees so effective planning will also include early review with legal counsel. Be sure to document everything that occurs and the steps your company is taking to prevent and solve disputes. And very importantly, don’t forget to review your policy for employment practices liability insurance (EPLI). While most policy forms contain exclusions for “bodily injury”, “physical injury”, “sickness” or “disease” and for claims otherwise protected by a workers’ compensation program, there are other situations where EPLI may be brought into play. These include allegations of retaliation against employees exercising their rights under OSHA or other employment safety regulations, alleged invasions of privacy with respect to unlawful disclosure of health information as a result of contact tracing and allegations that management failed to take reasonable steps to improve workplace conditions through cleaning and disinfecting. Talk with your broker about whether policy language can be improved to expand the scope of coverage and to understand EPL claim reporting requirements. You want to avoid any potential technical notice defenses that could be raised by the insurer.
As we approach the end of a historic year, I hope each of us is able to take some well-deserved time for reflection and gratitude. On behalf of everyone at Resource Partners, we want to wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday season.
Resource Partners have been offering a comprehensive array of traditional and alternative risk management products and services since 1993. Based in Lancaster, PA, Resource Partners serves nonprofit Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) and human service organizations within the faith communities of Brethren, Mennonite and Quaker denominations.
Our vision and mission are to serve as a trusted resource in providing alternative risk protection options as well as traditional risk management products and services to Peace Church organizations, and promote financial stewardship.
Contact Resource Partners today to learn more about our specialized insurance and risk management programs at 717-293-7840, or connect with us right here.