To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate... that is the question.

Apr 14, 2021

As we all know, the hot topic for the past year has been COVID-19.  Recently the conversation has turned from doom and gloom to hope and excitement for the future.  Something as simple as the possibility of hugging someone special or walking into a public place without a mask is infusing life back into our community. I know I am bursting at the seams as I look forward to the upcoming summer.  Full disclosure, I may hug the first person who steps on my toes as I push through a crowded room.

As we watch the COVID numbers decrease and the vaccination numbers increase, the small business community is eager to do our part.  Supporting community vaccinations in our businesses through optional or mandatory vaccination policies has brought a ton of questions to the table.   Below are a few questions that we have been able to help the small business community navigate.


Q:  Required Vaccinations vs. Recommended Vaccinations…what should I consider?

A:  There are many pros and cons to weigh as you ponder this decision, here are a few pros and cons for each option (be sure to add your own, I am sure I missed a few… there are so many)


Pros- Confidence in knowing your team protected, increased public confidence, increased control measures

Cons- Cost, mass adverse reactions, unknown liabilities, potential disparate impact, potential loss of workforce


Pros- Respects the individual health decisions of your team, reduced employer liability, balance/ meet-in-the-middle, reduced loss of workforce risk

Cons- Reduced control, managing multiple variables, the potential internal conflict of perspective/opinion

Culture- Depending on the culture of your business, mandatory vaccinations could complement or harm your culture. Be sure to consider how mandatory vaccinations would impact your workforce. 

Public perception- No matter your choice, there are members of the public that will not approve of either option.  Train your employees on appropriate responses. 


Q:  Can you require employees to be vaccinated?

A:  Although as an employer you can, there are a number of factors that you must consider:

  • Does the position impact the health and safety of the general public?
  • Does the employee have a disability or “sincerely held” religious accommodation that must be considered?
  • What is the availability of the vaccine to the employee’s population segment?
  • What is the culture of your organization?
  • Do you have a policy to ensure fair and consistent practices?


Q:  What do you mean by disability?

A:  Per local and federal law, employees may qualify for an exemption due to a medical reason or because of a sincerely held religious belief.  Any person declining vaccination, under a mandatory vaccination policy, for medical reasons must have one of the valid contraindications, as listed below.

  • Persons with severe (life-threatening) allergies to components of the COVID-19 vaccine or who previously had a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. Documentation from a licensed healthcare provider is required (see Verification of Contraindications below).
  • Pregnant women
  • Breastfeeding mothers
  • Adults who have immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by HIV or medications)


Q:  What do you mean by “sincerely held” religious accommodation?

A:  The U.S. Supreme Court has defined "religious belief" as a belief that is: "religious" in the employee’s own scheme of things and sincerely held by the employee.  Essentially you, as the employer, should trust that your employee is acting with sincere intent.  Requiring proof or documentation is discouraged.


Q:  Do I have to pay employees for time off related to receiving the vaccination?

A:  Vaccination injection time and recovery time is covered under the Healthy Families & Workplaces Act (HFWA):  Employers are required to pay employees for this time off (if necessary), there are payroll tax credit available.  In addition, if you require vaccinations this will be considered a work-related activity:  you will need to pay for the time off to get the vaccination and for any expenses incurred (cost of the vaccine, travel expenses, time off).


It is generally recommended that you implement a voluntary vaccination practice.  If you choose to take adverse action against an employee (discipline, termination, etc.), consult your legal counsel to ensure you have taken the necessary steps to keep your risk properly mitigated. 

Disclaimer: HR Branches provides general information about Human Resources. Please note that the information provided, while reliable, is not legal advice. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make sure your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location and circumstances. The purpose of this information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance on general HR matters.

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