Vaccinated vs. Unvaccinated Employees: Setting a Policy That Works for All

Follow these steps to help you determine what you want your vaccination policy to accomplish — and how to craft it from there.

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vaccine policy in workplace

During lockdown it was so easy for it to seem like things would all just fall back into place once vaccines were rolled out and widely available, but as any seasoned leader or HR professional knows, that’s hardly where the difficulties stop.

From people who have medical and religious reasons for not being vaccinated, to those who are simply refusing for other reasons, it’s likely that most workplaces have at least a few people who are unvaccinated.

As companies big and small begin to eye a return to in-office work this fall, leaders and HR professionals have an important question to answer: How do we set a vaccination policy that works for everyone?

Adjust your goals and expectations

The best place to start is with the realization that, like most work policies, you’re not going to be able to craft a perfect policy that works 100% well for everyone at your company. This is especially true if your business is growing or is already on the larger side.

Some people feel strongly that employers should mandate everything — from vaccinations to mask wearing and social distancing procedures. Many workers feel this way due to the delta variant and the fact that even vaccinated people can carry and transmit the virus. Many people are immunocompromised themselves or are living with someone who is or otherwise can’t yet be vaccinated (think young kids). Therefore,  these more all-encompassing mandates tend to serve their interests well.

Then, there are people who think their employer should mandate the vaccine — but that they should ditch masks and social distancing procedures. There’s also the vocal minority of people who are against the vaccination itself. Chances are you’ll have at least 1 person from each group at your company, so adjusting your expectations to fit the fact that there’s no perfect policy is the best place to start.

The best place to start is with the realization that, like most work policies, you’re not going to be able to craft a perfect policy that works 100% well for everyone at your company.

Determine what you want your vaccination policy to accomplish

One way to approach setting a vaccination policy is by reverse engineering one, starting with your goals. Does your company have employees who regularly interact with the general public so broader community safety and responsibility is something you’ll have to consider? Perhaps you have a small office that sailed through remote work? If that’s the case, you might be able to consider a vaccination policy that requires it only for those who are working in the office.

The point is this: You have to first figure out what your vaccination policy needs to accomplish:

  • Is its chief purpose to keep your employees safe or is it to keep the general public safe as your employees interact with them?
  • Does your company work directly with a vulnerable population like children or the elderly?
  • What kind of demands do your employees have in their personal lives (do many of them have small children at home or is your start up full of 20-somethings largely kid-free)?

It’s all about figuring out what you need your policy to accomplish and then setting up the policy to reach that goal.

Encourage vaccination and make it as easy as possible for your workers to get the shot

Especially if you are going to require that your employees to receive a vaccination, one of the best things you can do is make it as easy as possible for your employees to get one.

Offer incentives like paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. Considering bringing health professionals onsite to offer vaccinations in the office to make getting one as easy as possible. Consider giving employees the day off if they go get vaccinated — there’s a lot you can do as an employer to encourage vaccination, which is something that should come alongside any vaccination policy.

There’s no way around it: You have to think about enforcement

If you’re going to require vaccination in any way, you’re going to have to consider how you’ll enforce the policy. While there is plenty of precedent for employers requiring vaccinations, there’s much less precedent surrounding enforcement of a policy.

Above all, keep an eye on the news as the situation that surrounds enforcement is likely to take off, especially as schools are gearing up for the return to on-campus learning in the fall and many are requiring vaccinations as a result.

Are you going to take your employees’ word for it? Some businesses might simply ask for employees to pledge that they’ve been vaccinated while others could require proof. For those that require proof, there’s another layer: What counts as proof? A letter from a doctor attesting to their patient’s vaccination status? Or will employees have to to upload their vaccination cards into some kind of system to verify that they’ve actually received a vaccination?

Whatever the case may be at your company, you’ll do well to consider enforcement from the beginning. Crafting a policy that you’re going to be either unwilling or unable to enforce is just going to cause issues down the road, so it’s best to factor it in at the outset.

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