With under a month to go until the new policy takes effect, now is the time for action.
This article first appeared in Inc., December 22, 2021: https://www.inc.com/brit-morse/osha-biden-vaccine-mandate-courts-business-decision.html
With less than a month to go before President Biden’s vaccine mandate–requiring companies with at least 100 employees to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory or submit to regular testing–goes into effect on January 4, 2022, you have no time to waste.
Here are three things you can do now to prepare for the policy change:
Communicate any upcoming plans ASAP
Leaders must clearly communicate even a rough timeline to employees, and then proceed with handling any requests for an accommodation that employees might make. Eligible accommodations can include either strongly held religious beliefs or a medical need, says Jen L’Estrange, founder and managing director of Red Clover, an outsource HR firm. Then, go through those accommodation requests and enter into an interactive process with the employees, which is required by law, and make a determination as to whether an accommodation is warranted. It’s crucial to know how many employees may need this, as you don’t want to be left scrambling to make these plans if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) comes knocking. The federal agency that oversees workplace health and safety will be in charge of implementing the emergency temporary standard.
It’s also crucial to take into consideration both what your employees want and what makes sense for business, notes L’Estrange. If your employees want a mandate, it may be easier to implement one right away. Additionally, if employees are considering leaving because of the mandate, you may want to spend extra time explaining it to those who may be hesitant. Help them understand what the mandate requires and that there are testing options available for those who may be eligible.
Prepare for the unexpected
While the deadline to ensure everyone on staff is fully vaccinated or can show a negative Covid-19 test at least once a week is January 4, starting January 10, OSHA can issue fines. This means it will likely conduct inspections similarly to how it handles other matters, which is to say, unexpectedly. This will likely entail spot inspections in which OSHA sends representatives to a workplace, where they will have the authority to review records and ensure there is compliance, says Helen Rella, an employment attorney for law firm Wilk Auslander in New York City. “They can always just show up at your door; OSHA doesn’t need an appointment,” she says.
If they do show up, you’d better have records in order. Violations could result in fines ranging from $13,653 for each serious violation, and as high as $136,532 for any employer who deliberately disregards the mandate.
Figure out where and how to keep employee records
You could always do it the old-fashioned way and keep paper records of your employees’ vaccinations and tests, but if you have more than 100 employees that could get tedious. These records must also be stored confidentially and in compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. There are many software tools businesses can use to handle and easily access these vaccine records, such as VaxAtlas and Medicat. But it will take some time to transfer already existing records and educate HR professionals about how to use the tools.
Keep in mind that these tools do come at a cost. Medicat for example, costs roughly $25 to $75 per employee per year, depending on the size of the company. Which is why, if you plan to use one and don’t already have it, set aside some funds. “Get a plan ready to go that you can pull the trigger on,” notes Medicat CEO Daryl Rolley, “because, as we’ve seen, it’s not clear how much time you’re going to have once the dust settles on the mandates.”