Remember back in June/July 2020 when we had high hopes of the pandemic being an in and out kind of a thing, and companies would start returning employees back to an in-office environment? We wrote about specific return to the workplace strategies and we even did a 4 part series on it. That didn’t really happen. The virus continued to create significant (negative) impacts on all of us, keeping work teams mostly remote even to this day.
With the Vaccine becoming more widely available and there being a light at the end of the tunnel, companies are now evaluating their 2021 and beyond workplace structures. A lot of the information and return to the workplace strategies that we outlined in the previous blogs linked above still apply now but with some twists. A couple of those twists being:
Vaccines – There has been a lot of discussion around companies mandating vaccines or not, with most companies outside of high risk industries choosing to not mandate vaccines. But what about bringing employees back to an office environment? Because OSHA requires employers to provide a safe and productive work environment, the question now is if companies should (or can) ask employees if they have been vaccinated. The short answer - yes, you can ask if employees have been vaccinated, and you can require proof as well.
The longer answer - when asking for proof, it is important to instruct employees to only provide proof of the vaccination and not any other medical information. Additionally, there needs to be considerations for possible accommodations to employees that do not get vaccinated or unable to get vaccinated due to a religious belief or a medical reason. An accommodation could be that they continue to work remotely or are required to wear a mask while onsite, as examples.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance around this here. Scroll to Section K for information related to specifically the Vaccine in the workplace.
A couple of things to keep in mind here – just because you CAN ask if employees have been vaccinated, doesn’t mean you should. Ask why you would be requesting this information and for what reason. Because you can’t treat vaccinated and unvaccinated people differently and if it isn’t mandatory to be vaccinated, it is probably best to not gather that information and ensure that your workplace is continuing all safety protocols related to Covid.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) – The FFCRA was enacted April 1, 2020 and expired on December 31, 2021, as it was written. However, it has been extended twice for 2021 in a voluntary capacity. The first extension was through March 31, 2021 in which small businesses that chose to continue to provide paid leave under the FFCRA are eligible for tax credits for those payments.
The second extension of the FFCRA tax credits is through September 30, 2021 as written under the American Rescue Plan Act. This, again, provides companies with dollar-for-dollar tax credits for paid leave provided to employees for COVID related leaves. This extension includes time away for certain situations related to vaccinations including when an employee is getting the vaccine and when an employee recovers from an injury, illness or disability from getting a vaccine. Like the first extension, this is voluntary for small businesses.
Whether your small business workplace plan for 2021 is to be fully remote, 100% back in the office, or a hybrid approach, maintaining a safe work environment for all employees should be top of mind along with applicable regulations.
We are here to help along the way.