After a supremely fast start, in which 200 million vaccines were delivered into American arms within 100 days, the US COVID-19 vaccination effort has stalled and governments, both state and federal, are looking at ways to compel people to get the jab.
With both public and private sector workers looking ever more likely to face some form of vaccine mandate, staffing and recruiting firms are beginning to ask what this might mean. Managing a transitional workforce amidst current regulations already represents a challenge – to add another layer of complexity on top has many in the industry wondering whether they’ll be able to cope.
A big change, but perhaps not entirely new
A COVID-19 vaccination mandate might represent a large challenge in terms of scale, but for many firms it won’t be a new challenge.
If you’ve worked with a client who has already mandated the vaccine within their organization, you may have been training for this situation for months. For the most part these situations tend to play out quite civilly – while some people resist, most understand the directive, and those who choose to prioritize their personal thoughts on vaccines over a job opportunity are welcome to do so.
It should be stressed that while the aim is to get more people vaccinated, the rules currently being discussed aren’t explicitly vaccination mandates: there is the choice of undergoing weekly testing instead, as well as reasonable accommodation for disability or religious reasons, although these paths only add to the administrative burden on the staffing side, so it’s likely that many firms will look for fully vaccinated workers under a mandate, purely for efficiency’s sake.
All that’s left is to prepare as best you can for the possible implementation, which can be done by taking the following three steps:
1. Adopt a policy
As a staffing firm you need to clearly outline your policy on a vaccine mandate to ensure your candidates, your clients, and your team members are all on the same page.
Will you mandate the vaccine or allow unvaccinated employees to be tested weekly? If you choose to adopt the weekly testing option, you’ll need to develop a plan and process that ensures these weekly tests are carried out, that the results are tracked, and that they can be made available to any government agency that might require proof.
Depending on the shape of the mandate, your firm may be asked to absorb the costs of the test, the time an employee spends getting tested, or the costs relating to getting a vaccine. Determine the logistics and costs of doing so, and build them into your pricing.
2. Establish a vaccination status process
Depending on the shape of the mandate, a firm may require proof of an employee’s vaccination status. It’s therefore important to consider how you’ll obtain employee information regarding their status, and how those records will be stored.
The first thing to note is that it is generally lawful for employers to ask employees about vaccination status while maintaining confidentiality. If an eventual mandate does require something more than verbal proof of vaccination, an employee who fights back won’t do so on solid legal ground. For new employees, establishing vaccination status and securing proof should be declared a condition of employment.
Status confirmed, establish a way to manage and store this information in a secure way. Able has worked to alleviate some of this pain, allowing applicants and employees to upload proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test directly into the system. COVID-specific forms can be added to your onboarding workflow, to ensure vaccination proof is obtained and made readily available in an audit situation, or to manage the weekly COVID tests if you go down that path.
3. Form a response to accommodation requests
Any mandate will likely include reasonable accommodation for disability or religious reasons. You need to plan for a situation in which you’re presented with an accommodation request – there should be a clear policy in place that your team can follow.
Such a policy will be shaped by a wealth of variables – this is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all situation. It’s wise to seek the advice of a consultant, to understand what your rights and responsibilities are. You don’t want a lack of understanding to lead you into a compromised situation.
Faced with the potential of a vaccine mandate, the response from within the staffing and recruiting industry has overwhelmingly been ‘yet another box to tick, form to fill out, hurdle to jump’. For an industry already under the pump, doing its best to get the US economy back on track, it’s understandable that there’s pushback against what will likely be a significant administrative burden.
But the industry isn’t one to wallow in self-pity. It’s full of doers, problem solvers, and change-makers. Firms realize that by doing the homework now, they’ll be as prepared as possible for whatever will come.
No matter the obligations of the mandate, innovative firms understand that all organizations will be faced with the same challenges. As such, they’ll see this as an opportunity to get ahead.