To contain the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, President Biden has proposed a new federal vaccine mandate applicable to certain businesses. The mandate includes the strictest vaccination requirements yet imposed and could affect almost two-thirds of the American workforce, including the property management industry.
While the mandate isn’t anticipated to go into effect for several weeks, property management employers are already asking what it means for them and how they can prepare. To help you get ahead of the new requirements, Grace Hill has created a suggested five-step action plan. This plan is not a substitute for legal counsel; instead, it should help you organize necessary conversations with your legal team and streamline your company strategy.
Step 1: Draft Company-Wide Vaccine Policy
The first step to ensuring you apply vaccination requirements and grant accommodations in a consistent, legal fashion is to document a company-wide vaccine policy.
- Employees may request accommodations for disabilities or religious reasons under federal or state laws. Develop a robust and clear reasonable accommodation policy to address potential exemptions, including how you will evaluate and process accommodation requests.
- Be prepared for employees to request accommodations from the weekly testing requirement as well.
- Communicate and administer the accommodation process thoughtfully, emphasizing individualized, confidential consideration of each request.
- Address how non-compliance with the vaccination and/or testing requirements will be handled.
- Include steps to follow for OSHA inspections and complaints.
Step 2: Adopt Procedure for Determining Employee Vaccination Status
Vaccination documentation is sensitive information. Adopt procedures for treating vaccination and testing records the same as medical records regarding who has access to this information and how it is stored.
- Review state laws regarding confidentiality and privacy of medical records.
- EEOC has indicated it is lawful to ask employees about COVID-19 vaccination status, but you should not ask questions about a person’s underlying medical condition(s) unless related to an accommodation request.
- Document the procedure for how vaccination status will be verified, how that verification will be stored, and who will have access to it.
Step 3: Develop a Plan for Collecting and Tracking Test Results
The new rule is likely to allow employees to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing rather than provide proof of vaccination. News surrounding the announcement indicates that businesses may not be required to allow the weekly testing unless in an accommodation scenario.
- Make sure your company-wide policy addresses who will be allowed to substitute weekly testing for proof of vaccination.
- Consider who will pay for testing and whether employees must be paid for their time when testing.
- How and by whom will test results be collected? Don’t forget, test results are sensitive information.
- How will results be tracked?
- What process will be followed upon a positive result?
Step 4: Plan Strategic Communication of New Policies and Procedures
The effectiveness of your new policies, as well as employee attitude toward them, depends a lot on how they are communicated. Are your processes and expectations clear? Is everyone aware of them? Are they easily accessible by anyone who needs to reference them at any time? Remember, communication has the most significant influence on adoption.
- Be sure to communicate the importance and benefits of the new policies.
- Use multiple forms of communication, for example, email AND an announcement on your LMS or intranet.
- In addition to modes of communication, your strategic plan should include recommendations for how much notice managers should provide before implementing the new requirements.
Step 5: Anticipate Change
If nothing else, this pandemic has been a lesson in flexibility. Whether it’s new information, new legal requirements, or new variants, change is the one constant. Build a plan that can easily adapt to accommodate future conditions.
- Take this opportunity to establish your policy revision process. What will trigger it? Who will spearhead it?
- Consider how you will harness the knowledge of past successes and mistakes.
To learn more about how you can prepare to implement the new mandate, join our September 28 webinar: “What Employers Need To Know About the Federal Vaccine Mandate.” Along with employment attorney Perry MacLennan of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, we’ll discuss the mandate’s implications for employers, including the status of the related emergency temporary standard. It will be an excellent opportunity to ask your mandate-related questions and hear what guidance Perry can offer to property management employers.