Workplace Policies Adapt to COVID Variants and Vaccines
With the Delta COVID variant, workplace policies and vaccine strategies have become more important than ever for US businesses. To help keep customers and workplaces safe, it's key for businesses to take a multi-pronged approach to establishing policies in the workplace that effectively spell out measures to control the spread of COVID in their communities.
Looking toward local, state and federal guidance
Where your business is located will likely have an impact on the workplace policies you choose to enact. Here are some considerations:
- Local case rates: With many areas of the country experiencing a caseload surge due to the Delta variant, the severity of the outbreak may impact the measures your business deems necessary to protect your employees, customers and the public.
- Local vaccination rates: If your business operates in areas where there are low vaccination rates, this could impact policies such as masking and vaccination.
- Federal recommendations: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, outlined their current COVID mitigation guidelines for businesses that can help inform how your business operates in the age of COVID-19.
- State and local guidelines: Many states have enacted legislation that impacts which policies businesses can and cannot enact with regard to COVID-19, vaccines, mask requirements and more.
Workplace policy options
While political tensions stemming from the nearing two-year pandemic are riding high, it's possible to enact policies that have proven precedent and sound science backing them up. As you take in the above considerations for your business and locality, here are some policy solutions to consider to help address the Delta COVID variant, vaccine policies and alternatives to vaccination:
- Vaccine mandates: Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated? In a 2021 survey, 52% of businesses say they'll enact a vaccine mandate for their employees. This comes on the heels of full FDA approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The federal government and many states have already issued vaccine mandates for their employees.
- Vaccine incentives: In Wisconsin, a $100 cash incentive for vaccination is producing stellar results. New York City and Harris County in Houston, Texas, are now offering similar incentives to drive up vaccination rates. Harris County saw a six-fold increase in vaccinations following their program's launch.
- Hybrid policies: Some leaders, especially those in the medical community, see hybrid programs as the most effective in encouraging vaccination. These policies can include vaccine mandates, social policies impacting access to businesses and events, and incentives—all working together to increase vaccination rates.
- Personnel policies: For employees who choose to go unvaccinated without a valid exemption, the Society for Human Resource Management reports businesses can make reasonable accommodations for those workers by reassigning them to non-public-facing roles, suspending said employees or even terminating employment as several leading healthcare systems have done.
- Testing alternatives: For employees who decline vaccination or have filed a legitimate exception to a vaccine mandate, you can enact a policy that they receive regular testing as a condition of continued employment.
With the politicization of the pandemic, the policies that have accompanied it and any measures your business chooses to enact to mitigate the spread, you should prepare for inevitable backlash. There's no universally approved approach to controlling a global pandemic, so be heartened by knowing that whatever policies you choose, you'll have those who disagree.
Mask mandates might lose you some customers. But they could very well win you others who want to spend their money with businesses adopting CDC masking guidelines.
If you enact a vaccine mandate for employees, you'll still be allowing for exemptions under law such as those that accommodate disabilities and religious beliefs. For those who don't qualify for an exemption but still don't get the vaccine, you can get creative in how you discipline them. Organizations, such as the City of Tucson in Arizona, have enacted a rolling suspension policy for those who don't file an exemption by the vaccination deadline, so their five-day suspensions for non-compliance are spread throughout the year. Because of this policy, mandated suspensions won't significantly hinder Tucson's ability to provide critical services.
Finally, be prepared to stand firm in your decisions. There's no simple solution for quelling a pandemic that's become a global concern. The steps you take to create policies to address the Delta and other COVID variants, vaccine and mask requirements, and sanitation can help your business play a critical role in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end in your community. After all, any workplace policy you choose to enact has as much to do with protecting your business as it does protecting public health.
Financial insights for your business
This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.