Federal vaccine mandate gives HR new job, risks
President Biden’s plan to require vaccination or weekly testing for COVID-19 has many unknowns and troubling scenarios for employers.
The next federal rule requires companies with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 tests. It’s unclear whether the rule will apply to remote workers, but experts expect it will, as Biden’s goal is to increase vaccination rates overall.
Suppose, for example, that a high performing employee, who breaks all sales records, rejects vaccination and testing? Will this employer have to fire the employee for defying the federal vaccine mandate?
There is no answer to this question or many others, according to HR experts. And it may be some time before President Biden’s federal vaccine tenure plan can begin. Legal challenges by governors and organizations are expected, which may delay or kill the president’s plan. But HR departments may still have to prepare.
Businesses may need systems to manage vaccinations and tests. Enterprise human resource providers typically have systems that allow employees to upload and save documents, including proof of vaccination. But these HR information systems are not necessarily used by small businesses with up to around 1,000 employees.
“They can’t afford it in most cases,” said Brian Kropp, head of research in the HR practice at Gartner.
Small employers may have rudimentary HR capabilities or nothing more than spreadsheets to manage their personal files, Kropp said. This can prompt human resource providers to meet the need for record keeping.
“I think there is a real supplier opportunity,” he said.
Employers can also link vaccination and testing records to building safety systems, Kropp said. If an employee, for example, has not been vaccinated or the tests have expired, they may be denied access to the building, he said.
Vaccinated workforce saves money
Kropp believes that, for the most part, companies will be happy with Biden’s order because a vaccinated workplace costs less and is more productive.
“They realize the value of a vaccinated workforce in terms of decreased absenteeism and healthcare costs,” Kropp said. It also means they can reopen workplaces, he said. “A vaccinated workforce is very valuable to them.”
At this point, Delta Air Lines Inc. recently announced an additional $ 200 per month for unvaccinated employees using the company’s health care plan. He said the average cost of COVID-19 hospitals was $ 50,000.
Nevertheless, a federal mandate on vaccines poses problems.
“Are you ready to fire that high performing sales employee who outperforms all of his other peers by a magnitude of three?” Kropp said. It is not known if an employer would do this. But the mandate removes a competitive risk factor for companies that already require vaccination, he notes.
Biden’s order requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to draft a vaccine mandate. Until that happens and the legal issues are resolved, employers are in the dark.
“There are more questions than answers,” said David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources consulting firm in Norwalk, Connecticut. “And the biggest question right now is, should I even be worried about this?”
Legal challenges will derail parts
Lewis points to the planned court challenges and expects some, if not all, of those challenges “will derail, at least in part, this proposed directive,” Lewis said. The announcement of the federal vaccine mandate is “more of a direction until the issues are sorted out,” Lewis said.
Nonetheless, a vaccination mandate will create problems for human resources managers, Lewis said. Keeping records, including weekly test results, “is pretty nightmarish,” he said.
The mandate means employers will need to communicate their intention to new hires to comply with the company’s vaccine mandate and make it part of the onboarding process, Lewis said.
Some organizations already require vaccinations, but it’s mostly by organizations that do so for specific reasons, such as food processing safety, or just think it’s the right thing to do, Lewis said.
Biden’s order alleviates the need for employers to “be bold” to demand vaccination, Lewis said.
“It’s much easier to go to your employees and tell them you need to get the shot because of the president,” he said.
Brian Weinthal, an employment lawyer at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, PC in Chicago, said: “The debate is going to be on whether the executive branch has the power, without the statute of Congress, to take that kind of overwhelming or broad measures. action.”
It’s time to start preparing
Still, Weinthal tells customers to start preparing.
Preparation could begin with an employee census to see who is vaccinated and a process to protect that information and keep it confidential, he said.
“Legal challenges will not necessarily prevent these regulations from coming into effect immediately when they are published,” Weinthal said.
The existing law allows employers to ask questions about vaccination status and create a vaccination requirement, Weinthal said.
It’s unclear how companies will react to the high-value, top-performing employee who rejects testing or vaccination, Weinthal said.
But Biden did not say “there will be mandatory layoff” for employees who refuse vaccination and testing, he notes.
Weinthal suspects there will be a “massive legal pushback” if the government enforces a layoff, especially at a time when companies are struggling to fill certain positions.
Employers “theoretically have the right to control their own workforce – this cannot be restricted by the government,” Weinthal said. But how do you measure the idea of losing your best person “versus the idea that we can’t even get full staff in most companies?”
With all the legal uncertainties, Weinthal wonders if the corporate mandate on vaccines will ever come true.
Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He has worked for over two decades as a corporate IT reporter.