How to approach Covid-19 vaccinations for your agency
Many workplaces, including schools, hospitals, and government agencies, have begun requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Is this requirement necessary to ensure safety in your insurance agency?
Are vaccine mandates legal?
Yes, employers can require employees who come into the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Federal anti-discrimination laws don’t prohibit employers from requiring employees who physically enter the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the Employers Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, employers who encourage or require vaccinations must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other workplace laws.
To mandate that all employees at your insurance agency receive the COVID-19 vaccine, your policy must meet four federal standards:
- The need to vaccinate must be “job related” and “consistent with business necessity,” in keeping with the ADA. This requires determining the threat to safety posed by unvaccinated employees, including whether work is done indoors or outdoors and the frequency and duration of an unvaccinated employee’s interaction with other people.
- Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees who won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 due to a disability. Additionally, reasonable accommodations are required for employees who don’t comply based on religious beliefs. The definition of religion is broad and protects religious beliefs and practices that may be unfamiliar to employers. The EEOC says employers should assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a “sincerely held” religious belief. However, if an employer is aware of facts that don’t support an employee’s request for religious accommodations, the employer may request supporting information. So, if an employer finds that an unvaccinated employee could pose a safety threat, they must consider a reasonable accommodation—such as allowing the employee to work from home or take a leave of absence—to reduce or eliminate that threat. Employers and employees should work together to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made. If there isn’t one, an employer could bar the employee from physically entering the workplace, but this doesn’t mean that the employee can be automatically terminated, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
- The vaccination requirement can’t be rolled out in ways that would treat employees differently based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information.
- While the ADA generally restricts employers from asking employees about disabilities, employers can ask employees about their vaccine status or require proof of vaccination. According to the EEOC, asking about COVID-19 vaccination status is not a disability-related inquiry under the ADA, since there are several reasons why people might not be vaccinated.
Several states have introduced legislation to prohibit or restrict employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment, so be sure to check the specific laws in your state.
Can an insurance agency offer incentives to employees who get vaccinated?
Yes. According to federal agencies, employers can offer incentives for workers who get vaccinated. Incentives can include cash payments or gift cards. There are other steps employers can take to encourage or facilitate vaccination, such as educating employees about the vaccine, addressing employees’ questions and concerns about the vaccine, and offering time off to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects of the vaccine. In fact, the American Rescue Plan Act provides tax credits to employers to cover the costs of providing paid leave to employees to receive and recover from COVID-19 vaccinations.
However, if your agency offers the vaccine directly to agents and other employees, special restrictions on incentives apply. This is because before receiving the vaccine, recipients must be questioned about their health history, allergies, pregnancy status, and more. When the employer or its representative is asking these questions, it becomes a disability-related inquiry by the employer. Under the ADA, disability-related inquiries through an employer health program are permitted only if participation in that program is voluntary. However, the definition of “voluntary” has been the subject of controversy and litigation.
To mandate or not to mandate?
If your agency plans to require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it should develop a detailed, written policy. However, employers considering a mandate should contemplate the issue at length before acting. Law experts warn that employers may be put in the unenviable position of either adhering to the mandate and terminating employees who refuse or deviating from the policy for certain employees, risking a rash of discrimination claims.
Instead, experts suggest encouraging and incentivizing employees to get vaccinated rather than making vaccination mandatory for all. For example, your agency may want to:
- Develop vaccination education campaigns, including information about how vaccinations make the workplace safer
- Make getting the vaccine as easy as possible for employees by providing paid time off for employees to get the vaccine and recover from any potential side effects
- Lead by example by ensuring your agency’s management team gets vaccinated, too
- Cover any costs associated with getting vaccinated
- Provide incentives to employees who get vaccinated
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