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Practical Considerations For Bringing Employees Back To Work In A Vaccinated World

With over 50% of the U.S. population vaccinated against COVID-19, many employers are considering bringing employees back into the workplace. It is widely known that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued guidance stating that fully vaccinated individuals can for the most part resume indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or social distancing. Unvaccinated individuals are still advised to take precautions associated with COVID-19 such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. In light of this recent CDC guidance, many employers are wondering how to best implement a policy or procedure for bringing employees back into the workplace.

Mandatory or Not?

First, employers can decide whether to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for their employees to return to work. While a mandatory vaccination policy would largely allow the workplace to return to normal, such a policy may pose employee morale issues as well as administrative burdens. Depending on these considerations, an employer may simply encourage employees to get vaccinated.

Inquiring About Vaccinations

Employers should next consider whether they will track the number of employees who have been vaccinated. This may be done either by simply asking employees to self-report their vaccine status or by requesting or requiring proof of vaccination such as a vaccine card. If an employer tracks and/or collects information regarding employees’ vaccine status, the employer should be careful not to elicit any medical or genetic information which would implicate privacy concerns under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Genetic Information Discrimination Act (GINA). For example, if an employee reports that they are not vaccinated, the employer should not inquire further as to “why,” in order to avoid potentially eliciting medical information. Further, any vaccine information that is collected should be treated confidentially and kept in the employee’s medical file.

Vaccine Tracking and Lifting Workplace Restrictions

Tracking the number of employees who have been vaccinated can assist employers in determining whether to lift their workplace mask mandates and/or social distancing requirements. For example, if 90% of an employer’s workforce has been vaccinated, it may make sense to lift the COVID-19 restrictions for vaccinated individuals. However, employers should be aware that some states and/or localities may still have mask mandates in place, so it is important to determine if there are any such restrictions with which they need to comply.

Similarly, some states have also implemented requirements or recommendations that employers conduct temperature screenings and/or COVID-19 screening questions prior to employees entering the premises. Employers should be aware of any such requirements that apply even as the population continues to get vaccinated.

Work from Home Policies

Another item that employers should consider is whether to implement a Work from Home policy for employees who either will not be returning to the office or who will be permitted to work a flexible or remote schedule. As working from home becomes more of a norm in the post-COVID world, it is certainly advisable to have a policy in place to communicate expectations to employees.

These are only a few “big-ticket” items that employers should consider when bringing employees back to work. Please feel free to reach out to the McGrath North Labor and Employment team as you are working to return employees to the workplace. We are happy to help with any policies or communications geared towards returning to work, vaccination policies, work from home policies, reasonable accommodation forms, or any other employment-related procedures.