As COVID continues to change the way we work and adjust to new data, Dr. Mandy Cohen spoke with Members and moderator Molly Galloway, Chief Strategy Officer at Catapult, about what’s evolving in North Carolina’s approach to public health. As the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, she explained how companies of all sizes could support safe and productive working environments across the state. In the second half of our briefing, Carrie Cherveny, Esq., an employment lawyer and ERISA attorney, let her expertise shine through actionable tips to bring successful mid-pandemic people strategies to fruition.
Both experts echoed the importance of trusting what you know about your business’s work culture as well as staffing and retention challenges to inform significant decisions that address COVID. Plus, involving your employees by surveying them about hesitations and limitations like health restrictions and religion can help you create a targeted strategy, which may include efforts to:
- Telework as much as possible
- Promote testing and treatment
- Require masks in public indoor spaces
- Ensure proper ventilation
- Enhance surface cleaning
- Provide hand sanitizer
- Keep your community informed
How Businesses Should Adjust
After the timely advice by Dr. Cohen, the question on everyone’s minds is: “Should businesses mandate the vaccine?”
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
Cherveny advises that businesses ask themselves whether they have the HR staff and talent to manage a mandate in a compliant way. Ultimately, could you afford to lose employees who wouldn’t meet the mandate? If the answer is “no,” or if mandating the vaccine isn’t the appropriate solution, there are other ways to can adjust.
1. Promote remote work: Keep in mind that people who work from home are generally not subject to vaccine requirements or any COVID safety protocols from the employer. They’re working from home, which would fall under the category of a prohibited medical inquiry. If staff is meeting to discuss work-related things off-campus, they could be subject to testing, however.
2. Mandate vaccinations depending on industry and role: There’s nothing wrong with addressing the varying risks associated with employee roles and responsibilities. You can also set different requirements for different groups, as long as these policies are non-discriminatory. That means employees who come into a corporate office setting versus face-to-face with customers may require different approaches. Keep in mind that you must substantiate your populations to avoid a disparate impact!
3. Outline accommodation for your staff: If you require testing from unvaccinated employees, ensure written communications are clear about how they must submit proof and who they should approach if they need an ADA or religious accommodation.
4. Train your staff: Training is key for managers, frontline support interviewers, and recruiters because they all must know your program and candidate and employee rights.
5. Partner with a legal consultant: You are required to follow ADA and Civil Rights Act compliance, in addition to other national and local laws and regulations. Make sure there is no unintended disparate impact on protected classes because of an uninformed decision.
6. Incentivize vaccinations: Morale is down, so begin positive communications. Reward good behavior and consider creating an incentive program to get staff vaccinated. The easiest to implement incentives are not tied to the group health plan and allow employees to find their own vaccine providers. You may want to reward those who elect to vaccinate after the program begins, as well as those who made the decision early. Remember, incentives are a benefit of employment, and creating an alternative method of achieving the goal for ADA and religious accommodation is appropriate.
Overall, your best bet is to engage with staff in honest conversations and to take a comprehensive approach to workplace safety. “Talk to your outside counsel,” said Cherveny. “Talk to the Catapult folks and proceed with caution. Get good guidance, get good support, and make sure your program is built in a way that’s compliant and provides for the health and safety of your employees.”
Resources to Help You Get Started
Need assistance with COVID planning and response? Catapult has the tools you need to build thorough and practical protocols that can keep your workplace secure in an ever-shifting world.
- Visit our upcoming events page to register for classes, trainings, and talks to stay in the loop on trends and statewide updates.
- Explore our COVID Toolkit for an essential guide to everything from safety plans to reopening checklists to help you adapt nimbly.
- Learn how to receive free, unlimited advice on employment law issues and workplace document review from experienced local attorneys.
**Legal advice is provided to active Catapult member organizations under a pre-paid legal services plan. Participating plan attorneys are employees of Soule Law Firm, PLLC, and are not employees of Catapult. This Plan is registered with the NC State Bar. Registration does not constitute approval of the plan by the NC State Bar.