So, you heard that businesses with 100 or more employees will soon be required to enforce COVID-19 vaccinations and/or conduct weekly testing. As a manufacturing company, what can you do? First things first, don’t panic. We sat down with our Organizational Development and Strategic HR Manager, Becky Kemp, to help manufacturing companies like yours prepare for the imminent COVID-19 workforce mandates.
Q: What is the best way for companies to prepare for this mandate?
A: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be creating an ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) which will provide guidance to employers with more than 100 employees. Unfortunately, once the standard is issued, employers won’t have a lot of time to become compliant. It’s far better to start reviewing current health and accommodation policies now, so getting to the standard or becoming compliance will be less of a strain on the organization. When you review your company’s policies in advance, you also have more time to determine if you must update them or completely rewrite them.
Q: How do companies go about updating their HR policies?
A: It is important for employers to consider the answers to following questions:
- How does the employer currently handle confidential health information? The vaccine documentation/accommodation will need to be handled with the same level of confidentiality as FMLA, etc.
- What COVID-19 policies were in place prior to the easing of requirements? Many of those policies (limiting visitors, masking in common areas) may be worth re-instating.
- How are accommodation requests reviewed and accepted? There will be medical, ADA, and religious accommodations under the new vaccine mandate.
- How have you handled accommodation requests in the past and how do you ensure confidentiality? Your accommodation requests under the mandate should be handled in a consistent manner.
Q: What is the best way for companies to introduce new COVID-19 protocols in the workplace?
A: If possible, we suggest conducting an in-person gathering with social distancing. This allows for questions to be answered consistently to all and helps employees feel comfortable with the new policies. It also helps if the protocols/policies are provided in writing and each employer should get a signature of receipt of the written policies which also notes they have received and understand the policies from each employee.
Q: Who approves these new rules?
A: It is ALWAYS the recommendation of MD MEP that all new policies and compliance issues be reviewed by an employer’s legal counsel. MD MEP does not provide legal advice and our recommendations are based on best practices pertaining to a company’s unique situation.
Q: If a company does not have legal counsel, how can MD MEP help?
A: MD MEP is happy to review existing policies or utilize our resources to help draft documentation for a company for legal review. MD MEP can also answer questions and provide connections to resources.
Q: How can companies respond to employees with ADA, medical, or religious accommodations?
A: ADA accommodations are mostly for vaccination exemption. Very few accommodations exempt any employees from regular testing, masking, social distancing or sanitizing protocols. Most employers have policies in place to handle other accommodations, so take time now to review your existing policies and determine if any gaps exist to cover the vaccine mandate.
Q: Will companies be able to decide if they want to allow employees the opportunity to do weekly testing instead of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Yes. However, it appears that employers will be required to pay for the testing. In addition, the employer will be required to pay the employee for the time off of the job.
Q: What are some ways to encourage employees to receive their vaccinations?
A: It makes sense for all employers to encourage vaccinations NOW rather than wait until the mandate is announced. This gives the employer more control over the situation without time pressure. The employer could consider the following items for further motivation regarding compliance with vaccinations:
- Incentive programs – money, gift cards, vacation time, etc. for proof of vaccination
- Paid time off to receive vaccinations
- Advance information about the testing, masking, and potential restrictions
- Vaccine education – any information on vaccine efficacy, safety, and availability may help to aid in deciding to get vaccinated
While complying with the vaccine mandate and OSHA guidelines can put extra work on the shoulders of small and medium sized manufacturers, there’s still more to come throughout this year and next. With help from MD MEP, your company can successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape and find the best solutions that meet your needs. Contact us to learn more.