This article was originally published on October 1, 2021.

On September 9, 2021, the U.S. federal government announced a series of new measures created to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates, directing the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to develop a mandate requiring all private employers with over 100 employees to require vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 testing. According to Reuters, this will impact more than 80 million private sector employees.

Although OSHA has yet to release a final rule with specifics on the mandate, and several states have passed executive orders or legislation banning mandates, it is imperative that talent acquisition and human resources teams plan ahead to ensure minimal impacts on current employees and candidate pipelines.

Here are five steps TA and HR teams can take to prepare for the new federal vaccine mandate:

1. Understand what is known – and what is not

Following issuance of the final rule from OSHA, White House officials have said that employees of private employers will have a 50-to-90-day period to comply. Employers will also be required to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from side effects. Private employers that do not comply with the vaccine mandate or paid-time-off requirement can face fines of up to $14,000 per violation. Unlike some mandates put in place by private employers, the new federal rule allows workers to choose between either submitting proof of vaccination or undergoing weekly COVID-19 testing to limit spread of the virus.

However, there are still many unknowns about the mandate, including how private employers will be expected to pay for the mandated time away, what religious and medical accommodations will be permitted, and how the federal government will enforce the mandate itself. Organizations should follow the situation carefully and prepare to adjust their plans accordingly. In addition, make it a point to respond effectively to employee questions and concerns based on any new guidance from state or federal officials.

2. Take a pulse of employee sentiment

Because opinions and sentiment toward vaccination may vary greatly across employees, TA and HR teams should assess the current landscape of their workforce to find out where hesitance may lie. In addition to surveying employees to find out what percentage are vaccinated and what percentage plan to do so, organizations should also look at local vaccination rates in different markets, as well as general attitudes in the state or region they serve.

Doing so can help determine whether TA teams and hiring managers will need to prepare for an influx in resignations once the mandate is put in place. In addition, by understanding which employee groups in their workforce may have the biggest concerns, organizations can better reach them with educational campaigns that combat misinformation as well as other incentives to encourage vaccination. However, it is important to make sure all information collected on vaccination status remains confidential, and that employees feel empowered to ask questions or raise concerns without risking their privacy. Leaders may also find that smaller focus groups and direct communication with hesitant individuals may lead to less volatility and resistance among employees than conducting larger-scale meetings.

3. Consider the impact on TA

Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 28% of employed Americans say they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine even if it costs them their job. On the other hand, a study released by Mercer revealed that nearly 65% of surveyed employees would prefer their employer implement a vaccine mandate. Moreover, as of September, approximately three-fourths of eligible U.S. adults have already received at least one vaccine dose.

While the current tight labor market made many organizations hesitant to put mandates in place, the upcoming federal rule will make the decision for many. As more companies begin to implement mandates to comply with federal rules, it may further even out the playing field and reduce the impact on candidate pipelines. However, it is still imperative to have contingency plans in place should mandates result in resignations or talent shortages. Organizations such as health systems should explore options to redeploy existing staff and automate other tasks to ensure quality of care does not decline.

4. Put an airtight policy in place

TA and HR teams should work to clearly outline policies their organization will put in place to abide by the federal mandate. Determine the deadline that employees must get vaccinated by before being subject to weekly testing or disciplinary measures. Although the federal government’s rule will lay out the minimum requirements for employers, some businesses may choose to enforce more stringent measures to keep employees safe and minimize risk.

From there, organizations will also need to specify testing policies for those who opt not to get vaccinated, including whether the company will cover the costs or pass them onto employees. TA and HR should work together to ensure both vaccination records and weekly test results from existing employees and new hires are stored securely. In addition, ensure consensus on what the penalties for non-compliance will be and which stakeholders are responsible for enforcement.

Regarding religious and medical accommodations, companies should work with their legal counsel to determine what constitutes a valid request. Here, prior policies on other vaccine exemptions can help guide decisions. The TA and HR stakeholders responsible for enforcement should also fully understand how to apply the policy consistently and ensure compliance with all necessary protocols.

5. Communicate policies and other information effectively

Communications to current employees and candidates should explain that vaccination policies are in line with the federal rule and must be enforced. However, they should also emphasize the underlying safety and public health reasons behind such measures, and your organization’s duty as an employer to keep employees safe.

Leveraging an applicant tracking system or other technologies to automatically notify candidates and new hires of mandates can save resources while also giving the TA team valuable data on potential talent shortages. However, recruiters should still make sure they fully understand the policies your organization puts in place and can communicate them and the reasons behind them in detail to candidates, particularly if they differ from the minimum federal requirements.

When requiring vaccines, employers should also ensure that vaccination is accessible for employees. In addition to federally mandated PTO, communicate any other benefits such as transportation or on-site vaccine clinics clearly and frequently with employees to encourage compliance with the rule. During the hiring process, organizations can also reduce candidate dropout by offering resources to help candidates who are unvaccinated either complete the process or seek an approved exemption.

The new federal rules will make COVID-19 vaccine mandates a reality for many organizations, following a year of uncertainties and stalled return-to-office strategies. TA and HR teams must be prepared to work together to ensure a streamlined experience for candidates and employees despite quickly changing pandemic conditions.

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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