Employers Must Face the Vaccination Conversation Among Their Workforce

By Steven Payne

Jun. 21, 2019

The number of measles cases so far in 2019 is greater than the total number of cases for the past 25 years, announced the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 30. The CDC also warns that if the trend continues, the U.S. is in jeopardy of losing its measles elimination status.

vaccination, workplaceThis is alarming and has spurred conversations about unvaccinated children at school and the overall debate of parents’ decisions not to vaccinate their children for a variety of reasons. But there has been little discussion of unvaccinated adults or what happens when unvaccinated children enter the workforce.

Also read: Proposed Law Wants to Convert ‘Anti-Vaxer’ Into a Protected Class

Workplace Vaccinations

The vaccination conversation presents a legal dilemma for organizations. Can organizations require employees to be vaccinated or provide proof of immunity to ensure employees aren’t exposed to an illness? The answer is complicated.

The best course of action is to consult an attorney to determine the right path for your organization while maintaining compliance with local, state and federal laws as employers typically can’t require vaccinations.

This isn’t the quick and simple answer an operations director wants to hear. Directing organizational operations requires organizations to anticipate the future and obliterate obstacles that fall in their way on the path to their business goals. Operations is tasked with executing tactics as part of a strategy to keep business going and enable others to do their job efficiently through policies and procedures.

The last thing an operations director wants is an outbreak that takes employees away from performing their job and prohibiting operations from running smoothly.

While an organization evaluates their best course of action for policies that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and religious accommodations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are a few tactics organizations can consider in addressing the issue.

Fight Misinformation

Many Americans today don’t know someone who had polio — a potentially crippling and deadly disease for which there is no cure — all thanks to vaccines. The World Health Organization states polio still exists in the world, but the number of cases have decreased by 99% since 1988 with the use of vaccines.

The CDC states that there are possible side effects with any vaccine, but the polio vaccine has not been known to cause serious problems. An estimated one in 1 million might have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine.

The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, also called MMR, can have side effects, but the CDC states the vaccine is much safer than getting any of the illnesses it sets out to prevent.

The CDC also says there is no link between vaccines and autism. There’s a lot of incorrect and unsubstantiated information on the internet that influences false beliefs. One of the best things an organization can do is present employees with accurate medical information.

Businesses can help by posting vaccine information from well-sourced medical outlets on office bulletin boards, social media, employee newsletter, or company intranet.

Review Benefits

Disease prevention isn’t top of mind in a country where many diseases are on the verge of eradication. Many adults remember having chickenpox as a child, but now our children won’t have to deal with the itchy spots because they’ll be vaccinated against it.

A survey on benefits communication by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans showed that 80 percent of organizations believe that benefits understanding is low because participants don’t read provided plan materials.

It’s important to educate employees on what their benefits plan covers. Many health plans cover vaccinations at no cost. Employers should review their plan needs each year to make sure their medical plan is up to date and also provide coverage information to employees in a variety of consumable ways, from printed material to a Q&A session with plan providers.

This is a simple reminder for employees and their families to get updated immunizations.

Host a Vaccination Clinic

Organizations may already host a flu shot clinic each year for employee convenience and to prevent the illness from impacting company operations. When planning this annual event, consider providing other recommended vaccinations to employees and their families.

Employees should be able to attend the clinic without having to use their lunch hour or take leave. Making vaccines accessible for the employee and their family encourages vaccinations that can prevent diseases from spreading at work. It’s convenient for employees to be able to bring their children to an event like this instead of waiting in lines for the back-to-school rush to get immunizations.

There may be little organizations can do when it comes to a policy on vaccinations, but with education and making them easily accessible, we have a tremendous opportunity to encourage the well-being of our employees and their families.

Steven Payne is the chief operations officer at Edison, New Jersey-based HR technology company PeopleStrategy and provides long-range and tactical execution of strategic technology initiatives. He has also served as CTO and CSO of the company.

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