Dealing with COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy in the Workplace

Keely Teynor

Person with a COVID-19 vaccination sticker

As the world, country, state and local businesses are slowly starting to come back together with the COVID-19 vaccine becoming widely available, many businesses are wondering how to ease vaccine hesitancy in the workplace.

Here in Denver, we still have COVID-19 restrictions in place as it relates to workplaces. If you need to find out what restrictions are in place in your state, county or city, you can search your local government page to find out more. The more people who are vaccinated, the sooner restrictions will be loosened and hopefully, eliminated.

Can Employers Require Employees to get Vaccinated?

Before we get into how to reduce vaccine hesitancy, one might be wondering if employers can require their staff to get the vaccine. The short answer is yes, but there are guidelines to follow.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has weighed in on this, and it is important to understand that while you can require employees to get the vaccine, you also must be following all applicable laws and regulations as it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other workplace laws.

If you as an employer are considering making the vaccine mandatory, exceptions for employees who can’t get vaccinated because of a disability or religious belief must be made. Additionally, some states might provide additional protections for those who choose not to get vaccinated. More information from the EEOC can be found on the EEOC website.

OSHA, Workplace Safety and Vaccines

Furthermore, it is important to know that employers are required to provide their workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. This has not been tested in the legal system as it relates to acquiring COVID-19 at work, but it’s only a matter of time.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines to help mitigate the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak at your place of business. Take a look at their guidelines and recommendations for protecting OSHA Workers’ Rights.

Additionally, there are some rare negative reactions or side effects of the vaccine. If an employee does have a negative reaction to the vaccine, and you made the vaccine mandatory for work, you should contact your Worker’s Compensation Insurance to see if a claim should be filed.

Encouraging Employees to Get the Vaccine

Regardless of whether you choose to make the vaccine mandatory at work or not, there are a few key things that employers can do to reduce vaccine hesitancy in the workplace:

  • Provide fact-based data on the safety of vaccines.
  • Have employees share their personal experiences.
  • Make it easy to get the vaccine.
  • Offer incentives.

1. Provide Fact-Based Data

There are a lot of sources providing inaccurate or incomplete information as it relates to the vaccine. As such, there remains some vaccine hesitancy around the country. When starting to roll out a plan for encouraging employees to get vaccinated, point your employees to reputable information sources. The Frequently Asked Questions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a good place to start.

If you are wondering what the vaccine hesitancy rate is where your business is located, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created an interactive map with data collected in April of 2021.

2. Have Employees Share Personal Experience with Vaccine

Some employees may not have a lot of contact with others who have received the vaccine, or some might be scared of how they will feel after being vaccinated. Allowing people to share their positive stories, as well as discuss what additional freedoms they’ve been able to experience after reaching the full efficacy of the vaccine, could encourage others. To faciliate this conversation, you might create a wall in the office or a digital graphic to be shared with prompts such as:

  • “I got vaccinated because ….”
  • “The first thing I did after being fully vaccinated was …”
  • “When I got vaccinated, I had these symptoms …”

3. Make it Easy for Them to Get Vaccinated

If you are encouraging or requiring employees to get a vaccine, you really want to make it as easy as possible for them. As the vaccine has become more readily accessible, it will most likely not take as much time. You could designate a person to help with coordinating vaccine appointments or locations and provide that information to your employees.

If you are a larger organization, you also could arrange an on-site vaccination clinic during your business hours. If that isn’t possible, offering people PTO for their appointments would be encouraging and appreciated. Of course, if they aren’t feeling well after a dose, allowing them to work from home or change their schedule would also be appropriate.

4. Offer Incentives

Finally, incentives are always a strong motivator for employees. When you consider the loss of workplace productivity when someone is out due to COVID-19, encouraging people to be vaccinated and offering them a gift card, cash or something comparable could go a long way to encourage a few more employees to get vaccinated.

5. Have Human Resource Professionals Ready to Help

If you have any questions regarding COVID-19, the vaccine, or additional questions as it relates to EEOC, OSHA, etc., it’s very helpful to have an HR department to fall back on. Not only are they trained to deal with situations like these, but they also take the pressure off you.

Hire With Ease offers low cost monthly Human Resources Support through the HR Service Center where you’ll gain 24/7 online access to information on a wealth of HR resources, and HR On Demand, which also provides real-time access to experienced HR advisors during business hours to answer any questions you might have.