How to Prepare for the Federal Vaccine Mandate

The federal government laid out its employer mandate for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. Here is a guide to preparing for compliance and smooth implementation.

Last week, the federal government unveiled its long-anticipated vaccine and testing mandate for employers with 100 or more employees and the rules go into effect on January 4, 2022.

It’s important for companies to consider their approach to complying with this mandate and the potential for an expansion of the order to adopt stricter requirements and harsher penalties. Vaccine-related mandates are largely surviving court challenges, so this mandate (or some close version of it) will very likely become a reality in less than two months.


No need to panic though, as compliance costs and efforts are easily managed and there’s no need for organizations to build all the infrastructure themselves.


Let’s dive into the details of the order, then break out a good plan of action for firms to prepare for and comply with the new mandate.

New Rules Incoming

The full order is available to view in the Federal Register, a whopping 490 pages and published on November 5. A summary can be found on the site for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well.


In this Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), OSHA lays out the risks facing unvaccinated people in the workplace and asserts the necessity of the order to protect workers from further harm due to COVID-19. The ETS is limited to employers with 100 or more employees while it assesses the capacity for smaller firms to address the hurdle of compliance.


What’s important to distinguish is that this is a vaccine and testing mandate and employers will be required to accurately document vaccinations and test results for on-demand inspection by OSHA. Employees at covered firms will be required to either complete a full vaccination or submit a negative test result on a weekly basis, with a legal obligation to provide authentic documentation.


Further, unvaccinated employees will now be required to wear face coverings in the office until they complete vaccination, regardless of their test results.


The ETS doesn’t apply to businesses already covered by previous orders affecting federal contractors and healthcare service providers and it only exempts employees from the order who exclusively work outdoors, work entirely alone in the work facility, or work remotely. If any employee anticipates coming into contact with a customer or another employee, then the employee is required to comply and submit a negative test result or vaccination record one week prior to the contact.


If a team is completely distributed or a firm employs people working solo in security booths or outside in a forest or on a farm, you’re in the clear as far as this OSHA order goes. Otherwise, every company with 100 employees or more on the payroll and any of them come into contact with another person, those employees and firms are totally subject to the new rules.

Also noteworthy is that the ETS does not require employers to shoulder the costs of employee testing, which will give them flexibility in determining the best course of action in implementing a program for testing.


The OSHA rules also encode a requirement for covered employers to provide paid time off for employees while they pursue a vaccination and, if they experience any side effects, to recuperate.


Finally, the order stipulates some rules around notification. Employers must require employees to provide immediate notice of a positive COVID test or diagnosis, remove employees from the workplace, and prevent their return until they’re no longer a contagion risk. Further, employers must make clear policies known to employees relevant to the ETS and provide notice to OSHA within 8 hours of learning of work-related COVID deaths and within 24 hours of learning of work-related COVID hospitalizations.

An Ounce of Preparedness

The ETS contains a lot of new rules for businesses to follow, but the early bird gets the worm (and has fewer headaches).

Communication

First and foremost, business leaders need to build a solid communication plan to stay on the same page with employees. It’ll be better to annoy the team than leave something unsaid. Management and HR leadership need to work from the same script and ensure that messaging reaches every corner of the organization.

Know the Limits

It’s important for a firm to understand its position and relationship with its employees – and do a lot of research very quickly.


Employers will need to assess their potential cost structures for imposing a testing program, the likely responses from employees, and the efforts required to collect and store the requisite information. The ETS is technically temporary, but the order contains language that indicates OSHA plans to make the policy permanent.


Who will pay for testing? The OSHA rules stipulate that employers are not financially liable, while this general testing isn’t covered under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowances for free testing. Since someone has to pay, employers will need to identify if they can afford the testing or if it can pass on those costs to employees and how to do so.


Before making any policies, executives will need to estimate employees’ willingness to be vaccinated if not already and their willingness and capacity to pay for weekly tests if they refuse vaccination. Then, they’ll need to size up the costs of all that testing and project for at least 6 months and in perpetuity, in case these rules are made permanent.


Finally, employers should assess viable channels for increasing vaccinations. Are there clinics or pharmacies nearby? Is it worth it to offer vaccinations onsite for employees?

The new ETS is serious and compliance with it mandates the attention of management and HR. It will be crucial for the leadership to research the costs and limitations the organization will face before it makes any decisions on the policy.

Setting Good Policy

After conducting due diligence and identifying the organization’s limitations, then it’s time for the business to design and implement its vaccination policy. Key questions need to be answered:

  • What is the business’s actual goal with the required policy: increasing vaccinations, ensuring compliance, or something else?
  • How do employees submit proof of vaccination or negative test results?
  • How will the company handle employees who refuse to be vaccinated? What about employees who refuse to comply overall?
  • Does the company want to risk COVID contagion or face fines for any level of noncompliance?
  • What teams will specifically be responsible for collecting and storing information and enforcing the policies? Will team leads play a role in this or will it be a more centralized effort from management and HR?

Once the goals are set and understood, the policymaking group needs to produce a roadmap for reaching those goals and draft the policies that will enable that roadmap. They’ll also need to identify the toolkit and budget needed for executing the policies.

Smooth Implementation  

With the policies ironed out, firms will need to implement them – sooner rather than later. Some staff will comply, some will resist, and some will merely miss the announcement. It’s paramount that firms prepare for anything and work to remove hurdles for compliance.


Here are tips for creating a seamless implementation:

  • Overcommunication across all internal channels when announcing and explaining the policy will yield dividends
  • Don’t build it from scratch; find a partner to provide a simple digital experience for verifying vaccination status and sharing test results
  • Make sure employees are on required to put in minimal effort to be compliant; the easier the process fits into their lives, the more likely they are to cooperate
  • Start as soon as possible to avoid a rush to collect information at the last minute and work over reluctant or lethargic staff


A business following these tips should have an easier time implementing its new policies and will ideally avoid any issues complying with the ETS (and the subsequent fines and hassles from OSHA).

Ongoing Compliance Made Easy

Even after the reporting system is built and humming along, firms will need to stay on top of it for the foreseeable future. The ETS is likely to be made permanent and the pandemic could continue to produce new hurdles for everyone to contend with.


If they want to save employees the weekly joy of taking a COVID test and spare HR from recording the results correctly each time, business leaders will need to find incentives to drive up vaccinations to eliminate the need for testing at all.


However, this ETS from OSHA presents a much bigger opportunity for companies to transform their relationship to their employees’ health, to invest smartly and find good returns through increased productivity, more staff retention, and a reduction in health costs. People are leaving jobs in uniquely large droves in what has been dubbed the “Great Resignation.”


Policies aimed at complying with the OSHA mandate are likely to drive out some employees, but pairing new policies with a new health benefit that will actually be valuable can combat this friction and possibly raise staff morale. Now is the time to inspire loyalty, especially as employees report that better health benefits are a top motivator for making them stay in a job.


At Radish Health, we offer digital and in-person healthcare and have an easy-to-use tool for contact tracing, vaccine tracking, and handling test results. Our clients report happier and healthier teams and no issues keeping track of employees’ COVID data.


If you’re interested in a solution for complying with OSHA’s new vaccine & testing rules, please fill out the form below or contact us at sales@radish.health. We’ll be in touch and help you figure out your compliance strategy and how to make your healthcare work for you.

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