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Is Your Organization Developing a COVID-19 Vaccine Plan? It Should Be.

December 15, 2020

Vaccinating against COVID-19 is top of mind for individuals and organizations the world over. Not unexpected, the global vaccination effort is fraught with complexity, particularly for employers who must take into consideration issues including the health and safety of their employees; the health of their business; vaccine-related regulatory requirements, many of which are still being determined; the opinion of the public, who will be closely watching employer behaviors; consumer resistance to vaccines; and much more.

While it can reasonably be argued that there are more questions than answers at this point, FleishmanHillard’s Talent + Transformation team created a document to help decisionmakers consider the myriad business and employee-related factors that will intersect as vaccination efforts advance. Here are some critical considerations for employers:

  • Appoint vaccine leadership. Vaccine-related developments are likely to come fast and with conflicting or confusing information. Designating a vaccine lead or team including Human Resources (HR), Legal and Labor Relations (as appropriate) professionals can help you stay current with the latest information. Because of the specialized nature of these issues, working with outside counsel can help ensure you have the right expertise at the table.
  • Don’t overlook employees of color. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Black, Brown and Native American populations. These groups also have less access to healthcare and are more skeptical of vaccines, so remember to seek their input and keep their preferences, motivations and needs in mind as you develop your approach.
  • Determine whether you will offer/enable vaccinations. If your organization has the ability to offer vaccinations at your facilities, will you do so? If so, how will you protect the privacy of those who opt to be vaccinated at your location, as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)? Will you consider other related benefits for employees, such as providing a transportation stipend for employees to travel to a site where the vaccine is being administered? Will your paid time-off policy accommodate employees being away from work to receive the two doses of the vaccine? Will you accommodate employees staying home if they feel ill following the shots?
  • Assess your operations. Consider whether having a vaccinated workforce will enable you to do the following, as well as how important these considerations are to you:
    • Better protect employees
    • More quickly return employees to the workplace (even if you do not intend to require onsite work all the time)
    • More effectively serve customers
    • More fully engage employees who have had to take care of others during the pandemic
    • Bring back furloughed or laid-off workers
    • Reduce costs associated with accommodating remote work and protecting onsite workers
  • Review, revise and revisit, as needed. The availability of vaccines will require ongoing attention to organizational policy for months to come. Work with your HR, Legal and Labor Relations (if appropriate) experts to make necessary changes to your workforce policy.
  • Take a close look at the impact on workplace culture. Like much about COVID-19, the topic of vaccinations has become politicized and, for some, emotionally charged. Regardless of the steps you take with respect to vaccinations, some likely are to be on board with your decisions and others are not.

This is only the first phase of vaccine distribution, and there’s a long road ahead. In the weeks and months ahead:

  • Stay flexible. Much will change – quickly – with respect to vaccines and the implications for employers in the weeks and months ahead. Prepare for a complicated, drawn-out effort that will require quick decision-making and responses. Dedicating a team to your vaccination efforts can help ensure you are properly equipped to manage your approach over the long term.
  •  Avoid being pulled into combative political exchanges. Following guidance from public health authorities is the safest approach and can help keep organizations and their leaders above the fray.
  • Anticipate and plan for the future. As the vaccine becomes more widely available, it is important to anticipate and scenario-plan for how COVID-19 and the existence of the vaccine will continue to impact the workplace.
  • Ask for help. FleishmanHillard’s employee communications, labor relations, healthcare and issues management experts have helped a variety of clients from several industries and sectors with their COVID-19 and return-to-the-workplace plans.

View the complete list of considerations for COVID-19 vaccine plans here.