Now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, HR leaders must figure out how to craft vaccination policies. According to a recent survey, 44% of employers plan to require vaccination, 31% will encourage vaccination, and 14% will require some employees to get the vaccine. Additionally, more than 60% of companies in the United States will require proof of vaccination, and 35% said failure to comply could result in disciplinary action or termination.
National, local, and company mandates have been met with a lot of resistance. Many workers have expressed their dissatisfaction by resigning, but vaccination policies are complicated in some industries. For example, assisted living and retirement homes with at-risk populations must choose between potentially losing employees who don’t want to get vaccinated and losing revenue due to families who expect higher levels of safety.
In large organizations with high-trust cultures, vaccine mandates and proof of vaccination are not the standards. Instead, these companies leave working at home versus working in the office up to the judgment of managers and team leaders. This ensures the company maximizes performance while also responding to how employees feel about post-pandemic life.
The Role of HR Leaders in Vaccine Conversations
HR leaders have a lot at stake when it comes to vaccination policies. That’s why it’s crucial to have open and honest discussions with employees to determine the right course of action. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has supported COVID-19 tests as a condition of employment, some studies have found that 40% of people don’t want to get the vaccine. Companies that invest in high-trust cultures recognize that a blanket policy won’t work; leaders must find a way to balance company safety and employee needs.
Trust hinges on personal conversations. HR leaders who want to make the best decision should listen to employees’ concerns and understand why some people are hesitant to receive the vaccine. Some workers might have religious or medical concerns, and others could be victims of misinformation due to certain institutions, media outlets, and more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends letting employees grow comfortable with the idea of getting vaccinated. Workers who aren’t sure at first may change their minds after seeing colleagues receive the vaccine. Additionally, employers can overcome financial obstacles by offering paid leave or free transportation for employees getting inoculated.
The moral of the story is that HR needs to be empathetic and proactive when leading vaccine policy conversations. By creating spaces for open dialogue, HR leaders can build trust and challenge traditional management mindsets that could be grounded in negative assumptions about people.
Components of a Fair and Ethical Vaccination Policy
Until COVID-19, most employers had minimal experience with vaccination policies. In a post-pandemic world, HR departments will have to determine the best course of action to follow. Here are three important components to consider before making a decision:
1. Prioritize employee safety.
A vaccination policy should cite CDC guidelines and emphasize that employee safety is—and always will be—the highest priority. For example, after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals could forego masks in most indoor settings, companies like Walmart and Costco allowed fully vaccinated customers and employees to go maskless (provided state or local laws did not dictate otherwise). Organizations like Apple and Amazon hope to return to the office in fall 2021, but they also understand that flexibility is necessary as the world explores the next normal.
2. Search for win-win solutions.
When it comes to working with individuals who do not wish to get the vaccine, make sure to listen to their concerns and seek win-win solutions. Why don’t they want to get the vaccine? Is there anything HR can do to help? Are they worried they will be terminated? HR leaders should let employees know they are supported so they can continue to be productive and satisfied. Most importantly, companies should take steps to protect employees’ physical and mental health if they’re experiencing anxiety about the vaccine.
3. In the event of any conflicts, focus on resolutions.
If there are clashes between colleagues or between employees and HR when it comes to vaccination, define the process for resolution. This will ensure there is an acceptable—if not ideal—solution for both parties.
To start, avoid referencing disciplinary action or requiring proof of vaccination. This creates fear of litigation and impedes progress toward a positive and trusting culture. To prioritize safety and avoid termination, HR leaders should explore the possibility of continued remote work or workstations separated from other team members.
In the next normal, workplace policies surrounding vaccination raise plenty of questions for HR leaders. Employers need to maintain an open-door approach and listen to employees’ needs. The worst thing a company can do is shut employees out, assume the worst, and dismiss concerns. Prioritizing fairness and ethics will help workforces stay productive and safe moving forward.
Sue Bingham, founder and principal of HPWP Group, has been at the forefront of the positive business movement for 35 years. She as written a bestselling Amazon book, Creating the High Performance Work Place: It’s Not Complicated to Develop a Culture of Commitment and also contributed to international bestseller, From Hierarchy to High Performance.