Kansas employers are facing tough decisions about whether to put in place policies that pertain to employee health as Covid-19 vaccines become more readily available across the state.

Some businesses may incorporate vaccine policies, while others may determine they are better off leaving the decision about whether to be vaccinated up to employees.

Either way, Covid-19 vaccines likely will be an issue employers face throughout 2021, with the biggest questions being about whether vaccines can or should be required in the workplace.

In short, businesses can require their employees to be vaccinated in certain cases.

December 2020 guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicates Covid-19 vaccinations can be required in some instances as long as the request complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other workplace laws under the EEOC also apply.

However, experts say employers may be better off encouraging their employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine and stopping short of it being a requirement.

Policies pertaining to Covid-19 vaccinations inevitably will vary among employers depending on their industry and how closely their employees work with each other and the general public.

Connor Cross, Director of Human Resources for Syndeo, says employers should encourage their employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine if there is a legitimate business need to do so, such as those who work in the health care field or with high-risk populations. She weighed in on the issue for a January Wichita Business Journal story (subscription required) on HR trends.

Cross is quoted in the publication saying: “If you have a completely remote workforce and don’t have client contact or contact with the general public, is there a legitimate business need to require that of those employees? If you have a team, however, that works in a health care setting, if employees work with the elderly, if they work with children, if they work with the general public – do you have a legitimate business need? Probably.”

Employers could consider offering an incentive, such as paid time off to recover from any potential side effects, for employees who receive a Covid vaccine to encourage participation. Again, tread lightly on the vaccine requirements without a legitimate business need.

Some businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach on policies because Covid-19 vaccines still aren’t widely available to the general public in Kansas. However, those decisions will have to be made in the weeks ahead as vaccine distribution increases.

A word of caution, though, for businesses that decide a Covid-19 vaccine will be required: Employers may have to provide reasonable alternative work accommodations for those who have legal exemptions to receiving a vaccine, such as a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs.  Examples of this could be asking employees to work remotely or reassigning them to another position that offers the same pay and benefits but does not require a vaccination.

Gordon Berger, a partner with law firm FisherBroyles LLP, says employers and employees may disagree on what accommodations are deemed reasonable. He says employers do not necessarily have to accept every accommodation an employee proposes if the organization has presented reasonable alternatives. In that case, both sides may have to compromise and find a middle ground.

As with any policy change, communication with employees will be key.

Meanwhile, guidance pertaining to Covid-19 vaccines is likely to change multiple times throughout the year as distribution ramps up. Count on Syndeo to continually monitor changes and communicate potential effects on employers accordingly.

 

About us: As the Heartland’s leading employer services company, Syndeo partners with local business owners to help them minimize risk, improve efficiency and maximize profitability allowing them the freedom to focus on growth and fulfilling their mission. Syndeo fulfills its mission by taking on all of the HR responsibilities for our clients’ workforce, including employee relations, benefits, risk management and payroll.

 

~Josh Heck, Marketing Manager Syndeo