Coronavirus in the Workplace

The CDC’s New Guidance on Workplace Vaccination Programs; What Employers Need to Know

By Fiona W. Ong - Shawe Rosenthal LLP

March 22, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance on workplace vaccination programs that reiterates and expands upon prior guidance on this topic, with the intent of increasing vaccine uptake among essential (and other) workers. According to the CDC, vaccinations benefit both employers and employees by keeping the workforce healthy, reducing absences, and improving both productivity and morale. The CDC offers specific tips on the following topics: vaccination options, on-site and off-site vaccinations, building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, determining when employees may be vaccinated, vaccine mandates and exemptions, best practices, other considerations, and reopening the workplace.

Vaccination options. The CDC suggests that employers assess options for vaccinating the workplace. These include on-site, through existing occupational health clinics, or employer-run temporary or mobile vaccination clinics. They also include off-site, at community-run temporary or mobile vaccination clinics, pharmacies, hospitals, health care provider offices, or federally qualified health centers and other community clinics.

The CDC also recommends that employers consider an on-site workplace vaccination program if they have a large number of on-site workers with predictable schedules, the ability to either enroll in a jurisdiction’s immunization program as a vaccine provider or engage an enrolled provider, and the space to observe social distancing protocols throughout the entire vaccination process.

According to the CDC, employers should consider an off-site program if they do not have the resources to host an on-site program, have a mobile workforce, have workers with highly variable schedules, and/or have workers who would prefer to use a community-based clinic.

On-site vaccination programs. In addition to referring employers to the National Institute of Health’s Key Elements of a Model Workplace Safety and Health COVID-19 Vaccination Program, the CDC offers the following guidance for on-site programs:

•    Include input during the planning process from management, human resources, employees and, if present, labor representatives.
•    Contact local departments of health for guidance.
•    Consider using a community vaccination provider/vendor, who will have trained nursing staff, can bill insurance, and report immunization data to vaccine registries.
•    Prepare for potential anaphylaxis after vaccination.
•    Offer vaccinations at no charge and during work hours.
•    Provide easy access for all workers, including temporary workers and independent contractors.

Off-site vaccination programs. The CDC suggests that employers encourage employees to become vaccinated through the following steps:

•    Pay employees for their time getting vaccinated.
•    Support transportation, such as by providing taxi or ridesharing fare, and checking with local health departments for transportation support.
•    Inform employees as to what information they need to bring with them to verify eligibility.
•    Communicate with employees about the importance of vaccination through company intranet, email, newsletters, and portals.
•    Educate and assist employees on how to register for a vaccine appointment.
•    Ensure employees know that there should be no cost for the vaccine.
•    Identify and address barriers to vaccination in the specific workplace.

Building confidence in vaccinations. The CDC sets forth steps to build worker confidence in the vaccine, the vaccine providers, and the processes by which the vaccine was developed, authorized, manufactured and used:

•    Encourage company leaders to be vaccine champions.
•    Communicate transparently to all workers about vaccination.
•    Create a communication plan to share key messages, including the protection of workers and their families, through various channels like posters and emails.
•    Provide regular updates on the benefits, safety, side effects, and effectiveness of the vaccine.
•    Celebrate the decision to be vaccinated, through stickers, selfies, and other visible means.

The CDC also refers employers to its COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Toolkit for Essential Workers for further assistance.

Determining when employees may be vaccinated. The CDC directs employers to check for local rules on vaccine eligibility and determine when employees may be eligible, which may vary depending on certain criteria such as age or medical conditions. Multi-state employers should establish a vaccination committee and/or immunization champion to monitor each jurisdiction’s rollout and notify employees when they become eligible.

Vaccine mandates and exemptions. The CDC reiterates that, under the Emergency Use Authorization, vaccines are not mandated. Such mandates might be permissible under state or local law, but employers may need to provide religious or medical exemptions, as further discussed in guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition, if an employer requires proof of vaccination, medical information should not be part of the proof.

Best practices. Regardless of whether the vaccinations are offered on-site or off-site, the CDC offers the following suggestions for employers:

•    Offer flexible, non-punitive leave for adverse post-vaccination effects.
•    Allow time for vaccine confidence to grow, and offer multiple opportunities for vaccination.
•    Ask employee-respected organizations and individuals to help build vaccine confidence.

Other considerations. The CDC also notes some other issues to consider:
•    Sub-prioritization of employees, based on risk, age and underlying medical conditions, if there is not sufficient vaccine for all.
•    Stagger vaccine administration to prevent worker shortages due to adverse side effects.
•    Make vaccines available to temporary workers and independent contractors.
•    Encourage employees to enroll in“v-safe” to enable the CDC to check on their health after receiving a vaccine.

Reopening the workplace. Even after workers are vaccinated, the CDC notes that employers should continue to follow the Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to COVID-19, which includes masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, staying home if sick, and the continuation of workplace health and safety measures such as engineering controls (e.g. barriers). Employers should also consider the following:

•    Whether in-person presence is required.
•    How widespread COVID-19 is in the community.
•    The ability of employees to comply with the above-referenced workplace protocols.
•    Local or state mandates for business closure restrictions

This is obviously a fast-moving and ever-changing situation, and we will continue to post updates on any significant developments.

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