Q: Has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued any guidance on workplace COVID-19 vaccination programs?
A: Yes. The CDC released guidance for employers in mid-March. Although the CDC recognizes the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, it encourages employers to develop policies and share messages with employees to promote confidence in the vaccine, so employees will choose to get vaccinated when vaccines become more widely available. The CDC guidance addresses a variety of issues including:
- Direct Employees to On-Site or Off-Site Vaccination Clinics. The CDC recommends that employers consider whether they will seek to host an on-site vaccination clinic (through an existing occupational health clinic) or direct employees to off-site vaccination sites set up within local communities. The CDC recommends offering on-site vaccinations for companies with (a) large workforces at one physical location on a predictable schedule and (b) sufficient space to set up a vaccine clinic with appropriate social distancing. Employers with large warehouses, parking lots, or outdoor spaces are prime candidates to host on-site vaccination clinics. The CDC recommends that small- and medium-sized organizations direct their employees to community clinics.
- Have “Vaccine Champions.” The CDC notes that building up vaccine confidence in a workforce is key to getting a significant portion of an organization’s employees vaccinated. It recommends that a diverse group of respected organizational leaders obtain the vaccine and publicize their stories with other employees about why they chose to get vaccinated. Businesses should make vaccination “fun” by providing stickers and encouraging employees to post vaccine selfies on social media and company intranets after receiving the vaccine.
- Offer Paid Leave and Incentives for Vaccinations. New York now mandates paid leave for employees to get vaccinated and other states are quickly following suit. In the meantime, the CDC recommends that employers voluntarily offer paid leave for vaccinations and “flexible, non-punitive sick leave options (e.g., paid sick leave) for employees with signs and symptoms after vaccination.” If an employer is unable to offer on-site vaccination, the CDC encourages employers to pay for employee transportation to off-site vaccination clinics (e.g., by paying taxi or ridesharing costs).
- Avoid Worker Shortages Due to Vaccine Side Effects. The CDC recommends that employers consider staggering “employee vaccination to avoid worker shortages due to vaccine side effects” because some employees may experience normal side effects after receiving the vaccine. However, the CDC warns that staggering vaccines could cause a delay in vaccinating staff.
Employers should work with legal counsel when implementing a COVID-19 vaccine policy — especially if the employer is considering making employee vaccination mandatory or contemplating hosting an on-site vaccination clinic. For example, although offering the vaccine to employees is not in itself considered to be a medical examination, the pre-screening questions asked by an on-site vaccine clinician may be considered a medical examination and thereby invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act’s provision on disability-related inquiries.
In addition to the guidance offered by the CDC, a diverse group of Troutman Pepper attorneys continue to update COVID-19 Vaccine – Frequently Asked Questions. The FAQ includes guidance for businesses to consider now (and in the future) as COVID-19 vaccines quickly become more widespread.