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Biden’s Proposed Covid-19 Vaccine Rule for Large Employers and Federal Workers and YOUR BUSINESS

This week in HR, on the heels of the latest push to vaccinate Americans, the Biden Administration has deployed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to give a new rule requiring Covid-19 vaccination for all Federal workers as well as all employees of large employers.

Without mentioning the many reasons why this will be opposed for a long time to come in courts, ongoing Union opposition, and the urgent talent crisis, it behooves companies to understand the implications of the large employer vaccine rule on their HR strategy, policies, and procedures. It’s not clear from the initial announcement that there will be any succinct reporting mechanism, but you can rest assured that Crescent will continue keeping its customers and friends abreast of all aspects of COVID-related issues.

What is HR Strategy in the first place? Your strategy can serve many purposes, but perhaps the very most important aspect of an effective HR strategy is alignment of your people with your business goals. HR doesn’t just exist to process benefits enrollment or payroll or ‘manage conflict’. If that’s all your HR people do, you’re wasting money and/or you are failing to leverage HR’s key contributions potential of performance and engagement management, etc.—the unique ability of HR to integrate the organization, culture, and systems with its business vision. HR can be an opportunity cost or a strategic contributor. Either way, HR is the make-it-or-break-it component of your business strategy. Remember that getting the most out of your HR person or team is a two-way street between leadership and HR and it starts with having a vision (where you want to go as an organization) and clear objectives.

Vaccine & Strategy

Ok, back to the vaccine. How does the vaccine rule impact your HR Strategy? Well, if your HR strategy has to do with retention and recruitment to meet your business goals, think about how the vaccine mandate will impact your ability to retain or recruit. Think about how a vaccine mandate can affect your culture. If you have a culture that is about independence, how will such a requirement impact morale? If you have a remote workforce, consider how this will help your business. These are very important factors, among many, that add up to one thing: a communication nightmare. There will be winning and losing on every single verb, noun, and pronoun used in your official communications on the matter. So, think carefully about your communication plan and keep your HR strategy in mind as you craft your communications around the topic of vaccines:

  1. First and foremost, consider your overarching HR strategy. What about your business’s vision, values, and mission? Contextualize your message in the premises that usually inspire and guide your workforce and give meaning to your work.
  2. Have a plan for how you will gather and safeguard Private Health Information prior to asking employees to provide proof of their status…like, who to gather, how to gather, where to store, and how to track, follow-up for exclusions, and organization of data, as more guidance comes out. Think systems. If you’re HRIS doesn’t do like isolved, and help you store private health information with restricted access, you really need to rethink how your technology works or doesn’t work for you.
  3. Identify a group of employees who can help you with messaging and inevitable questions and objections.
  4. Anticipate objections and exceptions and how to manage, validate, and facilitate or not. Make a safe space for questions and objections.
  5. Consider how you will comply with other laws, like HIPAA, ADA, and Title IIV, and what the OSHA rule will allow you and your business to do. Protecting confidential PHI is extremely important.
  6. Understand the mandate before communicating your plan to workers. OSHA will be enforcing the Administration’s order; and they will ostensibly provide deadlines, evolving data on what it means to be fully vaccinated, and a reporting tool by which all employers will be required to affirm their compliance, etc.
  7. Communicate empathically. Your employees are important to you, not simply cogs that don’t have opinions. There are rational and serious perspectives on any side of a matter and winning friends and influencing people is fundamentally about identifying commonalities, understanding others’ points of view, and asking questions.
  8. Consider how to protect each employee from discrimination about their private opinions about the matter, whether pro or con. Hostility in the workplace can damage your bottom line as handily as anything else.

Handbook

Let’s talk about your handbook now. Your handbook will inevitably need updating with respect to government mandates pursuant to masse health events or disasters after a 2 year stretch like 2020-2021. For now, you can issue an addendum with your purpose for the policy, explicit compliance instructions for employees, and your enforcement plans and the process. It should be part of your immediate planning – how you will respond to a vaccine rule, should it go into effect, without injunctions or other censure, with or without full answers from OSHA on how they’ll enforce. And, finally, be prepared to change your plans, as everything about Covid-19 has been full of change.

Risk Assessment

What do you do as a business leader? It is important to know the data and why you make any decision and to take account of costs and benefits. Reliance on any one source these days to make policy decisions can automatically create dissent in your workforce. Keep the main thing the main thing – this is about protecting your workers and you may come to a different risk assessment than any voice in the mainstream would have you believe. Remember a primary risk to your business is employee retention.

The point is, you have to dig in with your employees and get personal. This rule, if it goes into affect, will impact your business. At the very least, you'll have to gather and report to OSHA. Try to get ahead of the matter by determining your position on it, how it will impact your employees, and how you can mitigate sentiment, loss, and risk with a sound communications strategy.

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