After many long, anxiety-filled months, Covid-19 continues to be a factor in how safe people feel as they navigate the current world order. Businesses across the spectrum are creating a new normal with this reality as a dominant factor.
Two prominent issues regarding Covid-19 and workplace safety are worth revisiting as the season changes and the virus still shows no clear signs of abating.
Can employers require employees to be vaccinated?
The first issue concerns flu vaccines. Many people are wary of being vaccinated. This is of particular importance as flu season nears and the development of an approved Covid-19 vaccine approaches.
Can employers legally force employees to take vaccines when it is for the greater good of the company? Do personal rights prevail? The short answer is that a company probably cannot force compliance, but the true answer lies in state law, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In most states, employers can terminate employees at will unless the reason for the termination is illegal or prohibited by employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements. In general, it is unlikely that vaccinations are specifically mentioned. Exemption requests based on religious beliefs or underlying health conditions need to be seriously considered.
In most situations, the most prudent policy is requesting that employees get vaccinated but not requiring it.
This issue will arise again when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available. Recent polls show that as many as 50 percent of Americans will be reluctant to take the vaccine even when it becomes available. This may become an issue for employers who want to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible.
Employers should consult an employment attorney before setting any company-wide policy regarding vaccines.
What responsibility do employers have if an employee tests positive for Covid-19?
Covid-19 is more active in some parts of the country than in others, but there are cases everywhere. Employers need to have an action plan in place in the event one of their employees or a volunteer or contractor (collectively referred to as employees in the following text) tests positive for the virus. The following five steps should be part of the plan:
- Employers should check CDC guidelines, state law and any collective bargaining agreements to ensure that they are compliant and enforcing the latest guidance.
- Any employee tests who positive, even if asymptomatic, or shows Covid-19 symptoms while at work or within 48 hours of being at work should be sent home and instructed to self-isolate for 10 days. Testing may be required before the person can come back to work. The person may be required to have a negative Covid-19 test, a positive antibody test or meet other requirements before returning to the workplace.
- The employee’s workspace should be thoroughly sanitized after the employee leaves and should not be used for the next 24 hours, if possible.
- Contract tracing is important to controlling the spread of the disease. The employer should notify all coworkers who were in contact with the infected worker in the two days before the time when infection was confirmed, but employers must ensure that they comply with all federal and state privacy laws when doing so.
- Follow all CDC and state health department guidelines for more specific information. In addition, employers should consult with their employment attorneys to ensure that they are being compliant while limiting their exposure to potential future litigation.
Again, the two biggest issues are health and legal.
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