Confronting COVID-19 Q&A Series: Claire Pancerz, Holmes Murphy

In this Q&A, Holmes Murphy Compliance Director Claire Pancerz provides guidance on how companies can successfully plan and implement a COVID-19 vaccination program in the workplace, educate employees about the vaccines, and encourage compliance. Pancerz also discusses costs associated with vaccination.

This Q&A is a part of an ongoing series of DRC interviews with representatives from our member organizations.

Claire Pancerz, Compliance Director

Q: How should businesses prepare as they consider promoting and implementing a COVID-19 vaccination program in the workplace?

A: The key seems to be thinking logically about your business and your employees. If you have a business where 90% of your employees work successfully from home, mandating vaccination is probably more trouble than it is worth. If you have a business where most of your employees are facing members of the public, or providing essential services, it’s more logical to require that those employees do so. However, every employer should read through the EEOC guidance – vaccination questions begin with question K.1. – and consult with labor counsel before taking any steps to require vaccination.

The other piece is meeting your employees where they are. Some will want to be vaccinated, and some won’t. Giving them clear, fact-based information about the vaccines and how to get them, or just routing people to the Dallas County Health and Human Services website can be a great help. Employers should also model the behavior they want to see; company leaders should get vaccinated and be unafraid to discuss the process with their employees. Remember, to develop herd immunity, we don’t need 100% of individuals to be vaccinated.

During the pandemic, the federal government is paying for the cost of the vaccine itself. After the pandemic, that will likely change. Costs for administering the vaccines and any booster shots will probably range based on the entity administering them. Employers with health plans should discuss the cost issue with their insurance carriers or third-party administrators so they have a clear expectation of charges and can explain those to employees.

Q: What can employers do if an employee refuses to get the vaccine? What incentives might they offer to encourage compliance?

A: This again depends on an employer’s business and whether employees may work effectively from other locations. Hospital and nursing homes, for instance, would want to be more insistent on employees getting vaccinated, as would manufacturers whose employees must work in close contact. Someone who is a graphic artist who could work from home might not need to be vaccinated immediately. Forcing individuals to get vaccinated if they don’t work with the public or don’t have constant exposure to the virus may be counterproductive. You know the old saying, you get more flies with honey than vinegar.

Employers may offer incentives for employees to get the vaccination. A day or two off to address any side effects, some monetary compensation, or other small but meaningful rewards. However, an employer does have to be aware of the tax impact of those rewards. Employees would be taxed on bonuses handed out for being vaccinated, for example. This is another reason to consult with counsel before rolling out rewards.

Q: What is your advice for businesses thinking about having either a voluntary or a mandatory vaccination policy? Can larger companies mandate vaccines only for a particular segment of the population?

A: Our advice is always to consult with labor counsel on determining whether to mandate the vaccine and how to roll it out. Carefully consider your workforce and their attitudes toward medical treatment; focus on the type of business you have and how often employees must come into contact with members of the public; and define how progressive or paternalistic your culture is. Because the vaccine supply is limited and not all individuals are eligible, it might not make sense to mandate a vaccine, currently.

Employers large and small could consider mandating the vaccination for a particular segment of their population based on business requirements, not on age or health issues that employees may have. For example, a trucking company might want to mandate that truckers receive the vaccination, while employees with administrative jobs that can be done at home wouldn’t be required to do so.

Holmes Murphy is an independent insurance brokerage that prides itself on selling “thinking,” serving business and industry leaders across the nation in the areas of property casualty insurance, employee benefits, captive insurance, risk management, and loss control.