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Joe Szynkowski: Should employers require employee vaccines?
Column | WorkHappy

Joe Szynkowski: Should employers require employee vaccines?

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Get the coronavirus vaccine or lose your job.

This is a real-life conundrum being faced by workers across the world.

There is not a debate over whether or not employers are legally allowed to require their employees to receive the coronavirus vaccine. We already know they are. 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued new guidelines for employers that suggest several scenarios in which they can mandate a vaccine by labeling it as a safety measure.

But should they?

Putting people first

For companies genuinely worried about the health of their associates and the people they serve, there are certain instances where an employee-related vaccination program makes sense.

Think about a manufacturing line where employees are standing next to each other for 40-plus hours per week. Think about a hospital where professional nurses and physicians are in contact with already-compromised people day in and day out.

What about nursing home workers? The pandemic’s most heavily impacted group is the 85-and-older population.

Businesses that put people first have a real case for requiring the vaccine. How they communicate the decision to their employees is critical.

Considering vaccine exceptions

Yes, this pandemic is ultra-rare. No, this isn’t the first time required vaccinations have been implemented.

Federally, the legal precedent for such cases was established in 2009, when the EEOC allowed employers to require flu vaccinations during the H1N1 pandemic.

But just like then, employers were required to adjust to some medical and religious exemptions.

Under the Americans for Disabilities Act, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to workers who have medical conditions that make them unable to take the vaccine. Pregnancy or an underlying health condition could qualify.

In terms of faith-based exemptions, Title VII gives employees the right to refuse a vaccine if they have a sincerely held religious belief against vaccinations.

Keep in mind that even if your exemption is approved, your employer may still not allow you to come back to the office until they feel comfortable with you being around other people. 

What if you refuse?

If you straight-up refuse a required vaccination, your employer may wish to terminate your employment. Good companies, however, will find a compromise so you can continue working.

Here are a couple of questions to ask your employer if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation:

• Can I work remotely to reduce my exposure to other workers, customers and vendors? 

• Can my position be adjusted so I do not come in contact with other people?

Understanding an employer’s challenge

If you’re an employee for a company that has yet to announce its vaccination decision, be patient. Realize that decision-makers are people, too, and that this choice is a difficult one. They are weighing the safety of an entire work force, as well as the public. 

If you work in a small enough company, you may be able to give your opinion on the matter as your leadership team assesses the businesses’ specific circumstances with respect to a required vaccination.

Don’t be afraid to speak up with honest, sensible communications.

COVID-19 is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Employers and employees must work together to keep it from infecting company culture.

Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Check out www.workhappiest.com for his WorkHappy Spotlights or email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on finding career joy.

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