COVID Policies for Employers
While the Supreme Court has recently paused enforcement of OSHA’s Vaccinate or Test Requirement for large employers, nothing in the court’s decision prohibits employers from voluntarily implementing a vaccine or testing requirement for their employees (except for the few exceptions described below). Many businesses across the country have already implemented vaccine or testing requirements as a best practice. Now is the time to review your COVID-19 policies to ensure safety and compliance in your workplace.
States with Bans or Limits on Vaccine Mandates
When writing COVID policies for employers, it is important to consider the variability of state and county laws where employees work. If an employer has a vaccine mandate in place and employs individuals in one or more of these states, it is important to make sure your vaccine policy complies with these states’ restrictions. Although we expect to see legal challenges to many of these laws, these laws are all currently in effect.
Texas, Montana, and Tennessee have essentially banned vaccine mandates.
- Texas Governor Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting “any entity in Texas” from compelling employee vaccination if the employee objects “for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19”
- Montana law 1) prohibits discrimination in employment based on vaccination status and 2) bans employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines “whose use is allowed under an emergency use authorization or any vaccine undergoing safety trials”
- Tennessee law prohibits employers from requiring proof of vaccination or taking any adverse action for employee’s refusal to provide vaccination status if the employee “objects to vaccination”
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia have limits on vaccine mandates. The laws in these states are notable because of how they have expanded exceptions to vaccine mandates. Some examples are:
- In Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, and West Virginia, employees are exempt from vaccine requirements if they have proof of immunity, i.e. COVID-19 antibodies
- West Virginia employees are exempt from vaccine requirements if they have recovered from a previous COVID-19 infection; there is no time limit on this exception
- In Florida, employees can opt-out of a vaccine requirement if they choose to wear employer-provided PPE.
- Utah employees are exempt from a vaccine requirement if they have a “sincerely held personal belief”
- North Dakota employees are exempt from a vaccine requirement if they have a “philosophical or moral belief” against the vaccine
Evolving masking requirements also present unique challenges for companies. Employers should monitor both state and local masking requirements. For example, Utah and Maryland do not have state-wide mask mandates in place, but some counties in these states do require masks. Also, California currently has a state-wide mask mandate in place through February 15, but there are numerous counties throughout the state that have their own special masking requirements. Further, sometimes state and local requirements conflict, which puts businesses in a hard place.
Employers nationally are allowed to require masks in the workplace for unvaccinated employees only, with the exception of Montana because of its statute banning discrimination in employment based on vaccination status.
As we approach the 2-year mark of this global pandemic, you can help your employees to feel better about complying with changes in the workplace by clearly communicating the values that you are trying to uphold by creating a policy to protect their health and safety.
Include the following topics in your written policy:
- Vaccination policy
- Allowed exemptions
- How to request an exemption
- Masking policy
- Acceptable masks
- When masks can be removed
- Restrictions on gatherings
- Instructions on reporting cases
- Instructions for returning to the workplace after exclusion due to a COVID infection or exposure
- Clear statement that the policy is subject to change
SixFifty can help you to create a safe workspace while navigating the tricky legal landscape of an evolving public health situation. Our Return-to-Work toolset helps companies create COVID policies for employers, religious or medical vaccine exemption forms, vaccine self-attestation forms, and vaccine roster. Working with SixFifty is like having the best employment lawyer in the world by your side.
If you are ready to get started or have any questions, schedule a demo with SixFifty today!