Mandatory COVID-19 vaccines? 4 must-dos for your business

Stuck in the mandate debate? Here’s how to make progress with a company policy around varying mandatory COVID-19 vaccine standards – around the world. 

by Gabriela Troncoso Alarcón

To enforce or not to enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for employees? That is the (tricky) question. We can’t know the right answer for your business, but we do know how to get you on the right track to find it. With diverse requirements across different regions – and even across work activities – the mandate debate is especially complicated for multi-national corporations. You might be asking not just how to take a standard approach across your business but if you even should.  

The answer starts with looking at where regulations stand today – and looking at them in the right way. Below we share 4 “must-dos” from our work with global businesses to set you on your path to your best policy.  

   

1. Be clear on inconsistent regulations on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines

Whether mandating vaccination for those most at risk or for the entire business landscape at large, regulatory approaches vary greatly from country to country. The first must-do for your multi-national business is to have a comprehensive view of all the differences across your operating jurisdictions. This includes knowing what countries mandate vaccination, in what context, and for what type of jobs. Plus – whether those authorities accept alternatives to vaccination or allow exemptions. 

 

Focused on the front line 

For instance, some countries focus their mandates on “front-line” job positions. For instance, Greece and Australia enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers or care providers. Other jurisdictions, including Australia, France, Greece, US, and Indonesia, require vaccination for federal roles. As one example, Canada requires government employees and those of other federally regulated industries, such as banks, to be vaccinated. And all of these employers are required to establish vaccination policies in line with these requirements.  

 

Encompassing all employees 

Still other countries’ policies expand even further across the business landscape. Italy and Saudi Arabia, for example, impose vaccination on employees in all workplaces, in both the public and private sector. Though in Italy, employees may also show proof of recovery from COVID-19 in place of vaccination. 

 

No one-size-fits-all, even within one jurisdiction 

Even in regions where COVID-19 vaccination is required, there remain exemptions to that rule – or rules, so to speak. For example, in the US, employers must accommodate employees that can’t be vaccinated due to disabilities or other medical conditions. Additionally, there could be more exceptions under this country’s recently proposed emergency standard (which could emerge once more). In this case, loan, outdoor, and work-from-home employees would count towards the total number of employees but wouldn’t be required to get the vaccine. 

Ideally, as you consider the overall health and safety of your employees and community, your multi-national company policy will take into account each regional difference. That must start with a standardized, global outlook of your current vaccination requirements. And it requires a clear understanding of your company’s exact obligations. Once you have that knowledge at hand, you can begin handling the task of drawing a policy that works best for your business. 

2. Stay aligned with constantly shifting employee vaccination requirements

Viruses evolve, and so will measures to protect against them. Multiply that by your number of global facilities, then divide by the different regulatory approach in each operating jurisdiction – and you have a formula for endless modification. In short, it’s sure that these mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policies can change. (And then change again.) Like with ever-evolving EHS regulations, your own company’s vaccine policy will need to stay agile to account for every new development.  

For instance, at the time of writing this article, the US had announced a vaccination and testing emergency standard for all US companies with at least 100 employees. Then it was stopped from going into effect nation-wide. However, OSHA could still assume enforcement authority as we’ve seen in Arizona, South Carolina, and Utah. Should this mandate re-surface as it was first presented, it’ll require that all workers be vaccinated or tested weekly. 

Whether standardized globally or tailored for each jurisdiction, once your policy is built on a full view of regulations, make sure it’s built to be flexible. Some companies choose to jump ahead, developing a policy that follows proposed guidelines in case they become obligatory. Another approach is to have a consistent (and frequent) review process, which is supported by a timely source for regulatory developments. Then, ensure your workforce hears about changes as soon as possible with a clear and efficient system for communication. 

Like for governments, curtailing any liberty in light of the greater good must be carefully handled by businesses.

3. Incorporate the roles of – and the rulings for – human rights and vaccines

Of course, requiring vaccination isn’t new. For decades, authorities have put similar policies in place to protect public health. We’ve seen them used as a condition in many countries for attending school and even working in certain environments. But mandatory COVID-19 vaccines have reached a new peak of legal requirements – and enquiries. As is the case for some of the jurisdictions mentioned above, no proof of vaccination can mean no restaurant, cinema, or job at all. This has inevitably raised concerns about potential human rights violations – and some eyebrows. For a policy representative of your workforce, begin with legal precedent and balance it with a pulse-check of perspectives.  

 One precedent for required vaccination is a case beginning long before the pandemic. With applications between 2013 and 2015, the case regarded mandatory vaccines for children to be accepted in Czech Republic schools. In 2021 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that parents are indeed responsible to get their children vaccinated. In fact, the court regarded the vaccines as a key financial tool to save governmental money. These funds can then be redirected towards protection against other diseases for which there is no vaccine or cure.  

 More recently, health practitioners brought Greece to the same European Court of Human Rights. The applicants argued that the Greek law mandating compulsory vaccination of health professionals violated their rights to life and liberty (among others) as well as certain prohibitions, including of inhuman and degrading treatment and discrimination. On 9 September 2021, the court rejected the health practitioners’ request to stop the law’s application via interim measures.  

 As with everything around this pandemic, the idea of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines can be quite contentious. For your employees to follow a policy, they’ll need to feel respected. When trying to implement the right policy for your organization, avoid wrong steps by starting with the facts. Then look further to see where your facilities’ communities stand. You might decide that opinions are so disparate that different regions should have different rules. Or, you’ll be able to communicate a standard global policy with informed compassion and consideration for those employees who might disagree.  

4. Put any mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy to the triad test

It takes more than 2 to tango when it comes to tackling vaccine policies – on the national level or an enterprise oneIn fact, it takes 3. Within a country, mandating vaccination requires a triad of collaboration between policy makers, the scientific community, and society as a wholeThe same can be said for your business and requiring mandatory COVID-19 vaccines of your employees. Here, your company’s decision-makers, employees, and the scientific community need to be in sync. If you’re pursuing a standard mandate for all, use policy makers’ best practices to verify that your policy has the necessary input for and from the right players. 

To do so, the key is in your starting criteriaPolicy makers must examine all the ethical considerations inherent to a mandate of vaccination, such as those described in the World Health Organization’s April 2021 policy briefThese include: 

  • providing sufficient evidence about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety: Do you have enough accessible information to support the mandate – and a way to share it? 
  • ensuring that the mandate doesn’t harm public trust: Can people be fully confident that the mandate is in their best interest? 

Like for governments, curtailing any liberty in light of the greater good must be carefully handled by businesses. First, just as a region’s policy must be supported by scientific evidence from the public health authorities, so will yours. Base any vaccination obligations on what type of information you can provide from health and legal authoritiesThat could include specifics on workers’ rights, your company’s legal obligations, and publicly available medical background on the vaccines themselves. Then, if you put a company-wide mandate in place, make sure to share those details and why you’ve made the choice that you have.  

 Then, for a policy to reach its objective, there must be a framework that facilitates implementation. That starts with fostering trust. Employees must first feel confident in what’s being communicated about the mandate – and fully understand the vaccine’s overall health benefits. Giving legal and scientific background to your policy is critical, but it’s just as important to explain it in a way that’s straightforward, clear, and includes references to information sources. Make sure to also provide a way for employees to ask questions and share any concerns so that you can address any confusion.  

 As you issue – or revise – your business’s policy on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, use these factors as your framework. The above queries help to not only determine the direction to take for your policy but also defend the reasoning behind whatever decision you make. If you’re not sure about the answer to any of these questions, it’s your cue for either deeper research or a different approach.  

Right vs wrong vs what to know: Making your call on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines

Looking out for employees’ best interest is easier said than done – especially when there’s much to be said on the subject. And there’s no doubt that businesses’ health & safety practices play a vital role in overcoming this pandemic.  

 If you’re struggling to decide which direction to go for your company, start with a complete picture of regulations around the world and how they’re changing. From there, further shape your approach with policy making best practices and a clear understanding of where your communities stand. Be sure to respect the wide range of opinions, whether that’s in how you construct your policy or simply how you communicate it – or both. Lastly, be sure that your policy is backed by sufficient, shareable information and that you have an effective system to share it at every step.    

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