COVID-19 Vaccination for Employees: 5 Things Employers Must Consider

With the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines — and with no formal directives from the Government — employers will have a strong case as to when and how they should go about it. This article touches upon the 5 key employer considerations when it comes to employee vaccination.

Should the workforce be vaccinated or not? This is one question that has been on every employer’s mind. Although vaccines have started rolling out and the government has “kind of” touched upon its vaccination plans for India and her subjects, there aren’t any formal rules set in stone for employers in India.

How are they going to handle the eventuality of vaccination? Listed below are 5 things that employers must consider knowing that the possibility of the Covid-19 vaccine is on the horizon.

1) Should employers mandate vaccines for employees?

If employers choose to force their employees to vaccinate, it might come across as a case of assault and battery. Therefore, you could say that mandatory vaccination for employees can be not just highly unethical but also inappropriate.

You could, of course, present it as a management decision more than a mandate; especially in sectors where Covid-19 presents increased morbidity, outbreaks and mortality. Keeping this mind, employers might put across a management request towards employees asking them to mandatorily vaccinate else face disciplinary consequences.

However, tread carefully, as doing something like this can seriously strain employer-employee relationships. What’s more, dismissing or punishing employees on grounds of refusing vaccination might tarnish your image and brand value.

2) Prevent employees who refuse to be vaccinated (or aren’t vaccinated) from coming to the workplace?

Once employees start receiving vaccines, employers have to be quick to be concerned about the returnees. Understandably, there is always a risk of the virus entering the workplace and spreading amongst those who haven’t been vaccinated.

You need to be extra careful about the decision you make with regard to employees who have been directed to come back to work, or are wanting to — will it be ethical and appropriate for you to stop them from coming back?

While asking your employees to vaccinate can be a management instruction — or them getting the vaccine voluntarily without being pressured by the management is a matter of personal discretion — restricting access to the workplace is a possibility that will be viewed as a precautionary step that isn’t only appropriate, but also reasonable.

3) Employees aren’t the only ones who need to be vaccinated

Employees would definitely want their staff to get the vaccine to curb the virus from spreading in the workplace. While how you get them to get themselves vaccinated — by way of encouragement or repercussions — is an entirely different matter altogether, you will have to consider who else can pose a risk before you lay down the law.

Workplaces often get visitors, contractors, and third parties. And unless you communicate clearly who amongst those visiting the premises will be allowed to enter (or work) on-site, and on what grounds, you cannot force your staff into getting vaccinated.

Try to understand: who can be allowed at the workplace, how to get your staff to undergo vaccination, why would anyone refuse to come back, and work out the possible solutions and alternatives.

4) Are you recording data or invading employee privacy?

Although vaccines are being rolled out, no one has yet figured out how those getting the vaccine will be given the all-clear by the health authorities. Some form of document, certificate, identification or an entry into a national registry of vaccinated individuals…nobody knows.

Until anything concrete from the authorities surfaces, there is a high possibility that employers would have already worked (or thought about) some form of record-keeping, for those employees who are vaccinated, and those who aren’t.

Although creating something like a database of susceptible vs unsusceptible employees may be the right thing to do (and probably is) on the surface, below it is a sensitive matter of employee privacy and rights. 

Keeping or building employee records on grounds of vaccination gives the entire affair a special meaning. In other words, it’s as simple as people being segregated on the basis of their health status.

There’s nothing(or no one) that can stop you from creating your records. But as the employer, you must ensure that anything being recorded is in accordance with GDPR and privacy laws.

5) Vaccinated employees returning to work — now what?

The good news about vaccines being developed and administered now is that, sooner or later, everyone is going to get it one way or another.

But here’s the catch— nobody knows when they’re getting it. For employers, it’s a matter of huge concern. Even if most get the vaccine, some might miss out, some might decline getting the shot, and vaccination for others may be delayed. Simply put, the workplace might not function at full strength. Employers cannot call everyone back either lest they want their entire operation to shut down as a result of further infections.

They have to be strategic in their approach. Perhaps recall those who have received the vaccine and ask others to continue working remotely until they get vaccinated too. Within the workplace too, the safety and precautionary norms such as social distancing, use of PPEs, handwashing, regular sanitization of common areas etc., cannot be disregarded. 

Employers need to keep at it and follow all the norms until everyone is permanently Covid-19-free. The rules and norms for your employees must be absolute and apply to third parties, visitors, and contractors as well. 

Also, until things are clear, employers might have to think about their role in the immunization drive. Importance in terms of vaccination and work flexibility might have to be extended to employees who are more susceptible to the virus than others, such as pregnant women and individuals with comorbidities.

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