This article was originally published on August 25, 2021.
With COVID-19 vaccines now widely available in the United States, many organizations are eager to carry out their return-to-office plans following over a year of remote operations. However, as new virus variants drive increased infection rates, vaccine mandates are growing in popularity, forcing business leaders to make a decision on behalf of their employees and customers. As of August 2021, a number of major U.S. corporations have announced that they will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and this number is likely to increase following the full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Although these mandates may help prevent outbreaks and keep employees safe, they will undoubtedly also create new hiring and retention challenges that require talent acquisition to adapt. HR and TA leaders must be a part of conversations surrounding vaccination at their organization to advise.
Mapping out impact on talent strategy and hiring process
TA leaders can start by assessing the current state of vaccination at their organization. In addition to surveying employees to find out what percentage are vaccinated, also consider local vaccination rates in different markets, as well as general attitudes towards vaccination. Doing so can help prepare for potential resignations, although research shows that a majority of employees support vaccine mandates.
Hiring managers and business leaders can also help identify departments or teams that might be disproportionately affected by a mandate. Determine which roles require an on-site presence and which can be performed remotely, and whether both groups need to be vaccinated. Leaders should also consider that granting more exceptions creates more administrative work and potentially increases risk if an exempt employee’s role or location changes.
On the other hand, organizations must consider the repercussions of failing to put in place safety protocols: a lack of a vaccine mandate or a COVID-19 outbreak at an office could negatively impact employer brand and recruiting efforts.
Following these evaluations, there needs to be consensus between TA, human resources and executive leadership on whether vaccination will become a condition of employment and for which employees. Leadership also needs to understand any potential impacts on candidate pipelines and the budget increases or other investments required to mitigate them.
Working alongside other stakeholders to develop a clearly defined policy
Organizations should develop their vaccine policy with close input from TA and other departments, as well as their legal counsel, to make sure it meets the unique needs of their organization and industry. When designing the policy, make the mandate parameters as specific as possible. Specify which employee groups (remote, on-site, full-time, part-time) must comply based on the risk level they pose to themselves and other employees.
Because vendors and third-party suppliers may interact with employees or customers, they should also factor into mandates. For example, some healthcare providers require any third-party vendors on-site to be vaccinated to protect patients and internal employees. Organizations can look at existing vaccine policies, such as those for yearly flu shots, for guidance, and be prepared to adjust policies to match any updates to vaccination guidelines issued by public health authorities.
A policy should also outline consequences of non-compliance for those subject to the mandate. Some organizations require weekly COVID-19 testing or mandatory masking, while others have indicated that unvaccinated employees will be suspended or terminated. On the other hand, most organizations will need to carve out exemptions for individuals with legitimate medical conditions or religious opposition to vaccination.
Finally, if instituting a mandate, employers have a responsibility to make vaccination easy and accessible for all employees. Many companies are offering paid time off to get vaccinated, ride-share allowances to vaccination sites, and even on-site clinics to improve access.
Ensuring policy communication is clear and effective
Once your organization has settled on a policy, HR and TA teams can collaborate with marketing and internal communications to communicate mandates internally and to the public in a clear, concise and non-inflammatory manner. However, internal messaging should occur before any public statements, to avoid sowing confusion or frustration among employees. Communicate the policy across your organization at the same time, ideally using multiple channels such as email or virtual meetings to ensure no employees miss the message.
While the need for a public statement to the press or on social media may vary based on your company and industry, when communicating your policy anywhere, it is important that the messaging underscores the public health and safety reasons behind a vaccine mandate, or the “why.” However, HR should also empower employees to ask questions or raise concerns they might have without judgment or repercussions. One major pharmaceutical company that recently instituted a mandate issued an FAQ to employees along with their policy announcement to cover common concerns about the mandate, such as medical exemptions, deadlines, enforcement, and privacy.
In addition, marketing and communications should develop a proactive plan to address any internal or external criticism of the requirement and protect your employer brand, based on how your company anticipates employees or the community to react.
Deploying updated recruitment messaging and processes
Vaccine policies need to be communicated effectively to prospective hires. Data from Indeed shows that job listings requiring vaccination grew 90% between July and August. Consider adding messaging to your career website, job descriptions or application portal. To prevent any disputes later in the hiring process, one major retailer added a checkbox to their job application forms requiring candidates to acknowledge vaccination as a condition of employment.
TA teams should also equip recruiters with verbiage for every stage of the hiring process if questions surrounding the policy or enforcement arise. Consult your legal counsel or compliance officer to find out what questions recruiters and hiring managers can legally ask candidates prior to offer acceptance as well, and whether a candidate’s vaccination status can eliminate them from consideration. If you work with any external partners during the hiring process, notify and train these teams with the same guidelines.
Finally, TA will need to work closely with HR to predetermine who will collect documentation once a candidate begins the pre-employment process. Get a clear picture of how and where vaccine documents will be verified and stored, and who will need access to this information for enforcement. HR teams can utilize existing frameworks for vaccine records to form their processes.
Creating efficiencies through technology and other tactics
Depending on the size of your organization, collecting and tracking vaccination records from employees and new hires may require a significant amount of work. Here, technology can go a long way to mitigate any potential errors, lost documents, privacy and data security concerns, and ultimately reduce organizational risk. Look at your current technology systems to see where there are opportunities to automate the collection and storage of vaccine records or talk to your vendors to determine whether you can add these capabilities. If your organization is managing the process internally, creating standardized forms and procedures can also streamline the process of uploading, verifying and tracking data, and provide an additional level of risk mitigation.
Although many organizations are using mandates to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce, others are also rolling out incentives to encourage, rather than simply require, inoculation. By making it more appealing for employees to get vaccinated, organizations can reduce the difficulties of mandate enforcement and the impact on TA. While providing paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from side effects remains popular with employers, some organizations have even offered financial incentives to vaccinated employees through direct payments, gift cards or raffles. Others are also developing educational campaigns that target vaccine-hesitant individuals and combat misinformation.
As more companies across markets and industries mandate vaccines, it may even out the playing field and reduce the impact on candidate pipelines. With current market dynamics and the increasing talent gap already making recruitment a challenge, vaccine mandate or not, TA needs to be prepared to address quickly shifting workplace conditions while remaining competitive for best-in-class talent.
Disclaimer: this is not legal advice and Cielo is not liable for any decisions made as an outcome of this information.
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