Keeping current with CDC guidelines and vaccination roll-out
In recent weeks, CDC recommendations regarding the length of quarantines have changed. And, as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to the public, employers may need to review and update their policies to better reflect the current situation. The below are some of the top questions employers are asking regarding how they can better protect their employees, customers and their business.
Q: Can I mandate employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: This answer may vary by industry, location and whether your workforce is unionized. Currently, many health care companies have already mandated employees receive annual flu shots. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have determined these policies to be permissible for health care workers. However, both OSHA and EEOC require employers to consider granting accommodations to employees who refuse to vaccinate due to a medical condition, disability or even religious belief.
Employers with unionized workforces will also need to consider the National Labor Relations Act as well as any labor contract obligations. If there is no collective bargaining agreement that already exists regarding mandatory vaccination, the employer may be required to first bargain to agreement before a mandatory vaccination policy can be enacted.
Business owners and employers should also ensure their policies are compliant with any pertinent state laws. Currently there is no Wisconsin state law prohibiting employers from requiring employees get vaccinated as a condition of employment. However, some states do permit employees to opt out.
In addition to the legalities of the issue, employers need to consider practical matters such as how a vaccine requirement could impact recruitment and retention. According to recent Gallup polling, 42 percent of U.S. adults say they are hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: If employees do get vaccinated, will they still need to comply with a mask mandate?
A: State mask mandates will most likely stay in effect while vaccine administration is rolled out. Most states now require face masks to slow and reduce the spread of COVID-19. OSHA has offered guidance and generally recommends that employers encourage employees to wear face coverings while in the workplace. Until OSHA and CDC guidance changes, employers should stay compliant with current recommendations. It’s important the company’s COVID-19 policy demonstrates a proactive approach to protecting employees’ health and preventing outbreaks. Since March, there have been over 1,400 lawsuits filed against employers due to alleged coronavirus labor and employment violations. One of the most effective ways to protect both your employees and your business is to develop, document and enforce policies that are consistent with OSHA and CDC guidance.
Q: Now that the CDC has shortened their quarantine timeline, can I adjust our company’s COVID policy accordingly?
A: Employers now have more options for quarantine guidelines, however symptoms must continue to be monitored through Day 14. On December 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new quarantine guidelines for employers. Previously, the CDC had advised a standard 14-day quarantine for employees who came into close contact with individuals who tested positive or were presumed positive. The new guidelines now offer the following alternatives.
- Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
- Quarantine can end after Day 7 IF a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring. The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation, but cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7.
To ensure your company’s COVID-19 policy meets your legal responsibility and limits your risk of litigation, it’s a good idea to reach out to legal counsel. Together, you can evaluate your options and you’ll stay up-to-date with the rapid changes from guidance at local, state and national level.