What Should I Do If My Employee Refuses to Get Vaccinated?

If you have an employee that’s refusing a vaccine mandate, follow these 5 steps.

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Whether it makes sense or not, getting the COVID-19 vaccination has become a polarizing topic in the United States. Especially in light of new vaccination mandates from the Biden administration and a growing number of companies making the jab a requirement for employment, those who are against it are finding themselves with fewer and fewer ways to avoid it.

Regardless, an estimated 93 million Americans are still holding out, leaving many employers to wonder how to approach the situation of an employee who refuses to get vaccinated.

It’s a position that employers big and small are having to contend with these days.

Make sure you understand legitimate exemptions and hesitations

It’s important to remember that there are generally two legitimate legal exemptions from vaccination requirements: medical exemptions and religious exemptions.

It’s important to remember that there are generally two legitimate legal exemptions from vaccination requirements: medical exemptions and religious exemptions. You cannot compel employees who legitimately meet these standards to receive a vaccine, so the first step is to figure out if an employee’s refusal stems from an exemption.

Then there are people with vaccine hesitancy: those who aren’t ready to trust the vaccine for one reason or another. Misinformation has played a key role in persuading people to not get a vaccinate. However, there are also groups of people who medical and government institutions have historically mistreated — which leads to their mistrust of the vaccine.

While it can be frustrating to encounter hesitancy, especially unfounded hesitancy, there are a few things that employers can do to reduce it. Before getting into conversations about mandates and terminations and the like, try taking the persuasive approaches outlined by the Harvard Business Review — such as ensuring that there’s no cost to getting vaccinated.  The article notes that some employers are offering the equivalent of 2 to 4 hours of pay so that hourly employees won’t suffer a financial loss when they get a vaccine during work hours.

Evaluate the risk

If you find yourself with a non-exempt employee who still refuses to get a vaccinate, the next thing you should do is evaluate the risk they pose to everyone they encounter through their work, from fellow workers to customers, vendors, and more.

Many people who are, for example, living with older parents, younger kids, or immunocompromised partners naturally have deep concerns about working in the same physical space as someone who is unvaccinated. Then there’s the customer-facing side to consider: If people know that competitors are requiring vaccines and your business isn’t, they could decide to frequent the other establishment instead.

There’s another risk you’ll have to weigh as well: the potential of a mass exodus of workers who would rather quit than get a vaccine. Chances are this will depend a lot on the political landscape of where your business is and where your workers live.

The risk that unvaccinated employees pose is a very individualized variable, but it’s one that’s important to quantify. That way, you can make appropriate decisions based on that risk.

Clearly communicate the ramifications

In your vaccination policy or elsewhere, you can outline the steps you’ll take to mitigate the potential issues that an unvaccinated employee can cause. Whether that means you’ll ban them from physically working in the office, or they’ll have to supply personal equipment for continued work at home, it’s important that employees understand the ramifications they’ll face if they refuse to get a vaccine.

For some, the professional consequences that result from refusing to get a vaccinate could be enough to persuade them to get the shot.

In your vaccination policy or elsewhere, you can outline the steps you’ll take to mitigate the potential issues that an unvaccinated employee can cause.

Consider making reasonable accommodations

Many companies have been working remotely just fine for the last year and a half. Let’s say an employee doesn’t want to get a vaccine, but doesn’t mind working from home. If their decision doesn’t negatively impact their team, their customers, or the company, why not just let them sequester themselves? Chances are you can find simple ways like this to ensure the safety of everyone without even having to consider termination as a result of refusing to get vaccination.

Make termination a last resort

That said, sometimes there is no other option. Especially if your company works in a high-risk environment, like healthcare or essential food service, there can be dangers that come with an unvaccinated employee that you simply can’t take.

Termination should be a last resort, but it is a tool in the toolbox that you may have to use considering the situation. Again, it’s all about quantifying the risk they pose, but sometimes termination is the only option. If you letting them go is a potential outcome for unvaccinated employees, make sure that you clearly communicate this to them so they know what they’re choosing when they forgo the vaccine.

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