Now that the rollout and administration of various COVID-19 vaccines are underway throughout the country, employees are slowly becoming able to return to work as governments lift the stricter lockdowns and people, communities, and businesses try to get back to some semblance of normal. As companies can secure employee vaccinations, different policies and procedures are vital for keeping employees safe. Regardless of the type of COVID-19 vaccination received by an employee (Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, etc.), having employees who are unlikely to suffer severe illness or symptoms if exposed to the coronavirus makes conducting business during the pandemic much easier.
As more and more employees return to work following vaccination, employers may wonder how they can keep their staff safe?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently approving various vaccines through an emergency use authorization. While vaccination policy is determined at the state and local level by public health officials, vaccination priorities typically include health care workers, frontline workers, long-term care facility workers, and others with a job-related direct threat to the virus given priority to vaccinate over the general public. Many workers have received the first dose of the vaccine, while some are starting to receive their second dose.
Authorities and vaccine manufacturers currently do not know if the vaccine will prevent the spread of the virus from those who are vaccinated or if vaccination provides immunization to the vaccine recipient. Accordingly, businesses and their employees must follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines related to social distancing, hand hygiene and handwashing, the use of face coverings, and other safety measures. Only until a significant percentage of the population receives their vaccination against the coronavirus and achieves herd immunity can we return to pre-pandemic activities and behaviors.
To keep employees safe, Human Resources departments should work with their state governments to include employees in vaccination programs. At the same time, businesses should establish policies such as requesting proof of vaccination for entering a workplace or worksite, offering reasonable accommodations for working from home, and requiring mandatory vaccinations subject to certain conditions. For example, a valid exemption from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines such as a high-risk medical condition, religious belief, or other undue hardship vaccination should all be valid reasons for an employee to have an exemption from immunization. EEOC guidance related to vaccination during the pandemic is available on their website.
A business should not consider employees to be fully vaccinated until they receive their second dose of any two-dose mRNA vaccines (e.g., the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines) and have waited the appropriate time for maximum immunity to take effect (clinical trials indicate this to be about two weeks following the second dose).
The administration of the COVID-19 vaccine should eventually provide herd immunity to the coronavirus as we end up with enough vaccinated people to disrupt viral transmission. While debate exists about whether or not COVID-19 is here to stay (a situation where people would receive a COVID shot annually, similar to a flu shot), we know there are many ways to maintain employees’ safety after the widespread administration of the vaccine. While face masks and face coverings may eventually become less ubiquitous, businesses should determine how employees interact with each other and with visitors, clients, or customers in the future. If it is not a business necessity to have physical contact with visitors or other employees, companies should consider minimizing such contact. Occupational safety measures such as availability of hand hygiene products and hand washing stations, plexiglass, glass, or plastic barriers, more tolerant sick leave programs, and more flexible work from home infrastructure can help to minimize the future spread of the coronavirus, as well as other airborne viruses and infectious diseases such as the flu.
Despite the positive news about the vaccine, there are ongoing threats related to COVID-19, the most notable being emerging variants. Several vaccines appear to protect against viral variants; however, the degree of that protection fluctuates depending on the variant. While vaccination is underway, there is an ongoing and asymmetric level of protection against the virus. It is essential to slow the spread of the virus to suppress the opportunity for new variants, any one of which may not be susceptible to existing vaccines or treatments.
GoCanvas has multiple tools that businesses and human resource departments can implement to help companies more effectively combat the coronavirus. By using a combination of apps such as Daily Employee Screening Logs, Office Cleaning Checklists, and other apps in the COVID-19 toolkit, businesses can operate in the pandemic with customers and employees feeling safe and healthy.