Companies can require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination, but many are instead seeking voluntary cooperation — some even offering cash incentives and time off.
Others, like Continuing Healthcare Solutions, will require all employees and new hires to be vaccinated. The Middleburg Heights company operates 31 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Ohio, including Pine Ridge Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Warren County.
“From a moral and ethical standpoint, we firmly believe we are doing the right thing. This really is the fastest way to protect our residents and that’s the primary objective,” said Mark Morley, vice president of operations. “And it is also the fastest way to protect our staff.”
More than 80% of residents are vaccinated but only about 40% of the company’s 3,000 employees have gotten the shot, he said. That’s fairly typical industrywide, even though long-term care facility staff were among the first eligible, said Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities.
“There’s always going to be that core of folks who are against vaccines and think that it is a conspiracy or something. They aren’t going to be shaken by good results for other people,” Van Runkle said.
“But you have probably a larger group who are just afraid of being guinea pigs, afraid to have it done to them first. And when they see that other people are not having significant consequences, then they’re coming forward.”
Continuing Healthcare Solutions leaders are “stunned by the misinformation” about the COVID-19 vaccine flooding social media, Morley said. Discussions with employees will be held to answer questions and address fears before the June 1 deadline to get a first-round vaccine, he said.
“It is controversial. And you know there’s probably going to be a little bit of fallout over it,” Morley said. “We do believe we are on the right side of history with what we are doing here.”
Law requires accommodation
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made clear that employers can require vaccines as a condition of employment, said Robert Harris, a partner in the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.
“Primarily you have to make sure that you provide accommodations, if available, for folks that have disabilities or legitimate religious objections to getting the vaccine,” he said.
Those accommodations may include requiring unvaccinated employees to wear masks, or work from home or a remote location in the workplace, said Jennifer Harrison, Dayton office partner-in-charge at law firm Taft.
“If you can’t identify a reasonable accommodation, the employer may be permitted to take an adverse employment action which, depending on the circumstances, may include termination,” Harris said.
Employees can be required to provide documentation of the religious objection or disability. Not all medical issues constitute a disability under the law, and he said “a personal preference not to get it or a medical distrust of it usually doesn’t rise to the level of a religious conflict.”
“It is a minefield,” Harris said. “I think the difficulty here is less one of legality and more one of, ‘How do I implement it? How does it play out? How does my workforce react to the requirement? Am I going to lose good people? What am I prepared to do to people who I really like who don’t want to comply?’”
Employers should treat prospective employees as they do existing ones as far as vaccine mandates to avoid discrimination claims, Harrison said.
She and Harris both advise employers to find a way to work with their employees on issues like vaccines, and they said such rules need to be bargained with labor unions.
“The overriding process here should be consider whether the vaccine policy is truly necessary and consistent with your business needs, especially when there are probably already other controls in place such as social distancing, facial coverings, remote working arrangements and things like that that can protect your workforce and are less controversial,” Harrison said.
“For many companies a better approach is to think about encouraging the workforce to get the vaccine and possibly even incenting them to do so,” she said.
Vaccines key to economic recovery
Fifty-one percent of chief executives said a return to normal for their business will depend on a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout and at least half of the population being vaccinated in key markets, according to a new survey by accounting firm KPMG of 500 chief executives globally, including 140 in the U.S.
Thirty-four percent said their most pressing concern regarding vaccine distribution is “misinformation about the safety of the vaccine that would cause employees not to take it,” and 91% of chief executives said they will ask employees to inform the company when they are vaccinated, the survey found.
“Vaccines give employers the confidence they need to bring people back to work and get our economy moving again,” said Chris Kershner, president and chief executive of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Ohio Business Roundtable, a nonprofit organization of CEOs at 91 of the state’s largest companies, is seeing big buy-in for asking employees to voluntarily get vaccinated, said Pat Tiberi, roundtable president and chief executive.
None of his members has indicated plans to make vaccines mandatory.
“They are certainly for the most part leaning in on educating employees on the vaccines, on the safety and efficacy of vaccines,” Tiberi said.
“I know a slew of chief executives that are promoting their own taking of the vaccines to their employees ... to try and give some comfort to their employees that they are not just telling people that they should take it, they’re taking it themselves.”
Erhardt Preitauer, president and CEO of CareSource, is one of them. He agreed to be photographed by the Dayton Daily News as he got his second Pfizer shot on Thursday at the Dayton Convention Center clinic operated by Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County.
“Very easy to sign up (and) move through the process, and I’m so excited to get my second shot today,” Preitauer said. “Hopefully everybody else does the same so collectively we can get past all this.”
CareSource is a leader in the state in getting employees engaged in safety protocols and vaccine discussions, Tiberi said. The company is part of the roundtable’s Stop the Spread Coalition.
In that role Erhardt “communicated with both our 4,500 employees and the broader business community to reinforce the need to be vigilant, especially in the months leading up to the vaccine roll out,” said Joe Kelley, CareSource manager of media relations.
CareSource medical leaders provided employees with information about the vaccine and how to get it, and the company gives points that can cut insurance costs for those who get the vaccine.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses-Ohio is working with Gov. Mike DeWine to help small business employees better access vaccines, said Roger Geiger, state executive director.
Most small businesses will promote the vaccine as public acceptance grows, Geiger said, and many owners are getting vaccinated because “they want to get back to normal.”.
“In fact already over 45% of our members are saying they are promoting the vaccine to their employees,” Geiger said. “I don’t think they are going to cross the line to mandating it.”
Successful companies are ones that realize employees are their biggest asset, and which remain sensitive to employee safety concerns and foster open communication with workers, said John Davis, associate vice president for human resources at Cedarville University.
Ohio Business Roundtable members are increasingly and quietly turning to incentives to get employees vaccinated.
“Those incentives generally are either time off, a day or half a day, or a financial incentive like a gift card or cash, like $50 or $100,” Tiberi said.
Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County encourages all companies to give employees time off to be vaccinated, spokesman Dan Suffoletto said.
In February, Kroger announced it would give $100 to employees who were fully vaccinated.
“Associates who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical or religious reasons will have the option of completing an educational health and safety course to receive the payment,” Kroger said in a news release.
None of the companies where workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75 is requiring vaccines, said Kevin Garvey, local president of the union, which represents 32,000 retail, food packing and other workers from northern Kentucky to Toledo.
Getting a vaccine “really comes down to personal choice,” Garvey said, and high numbers of the local’s members are choosing to be vaccinated.
These essential workers were hard hit as they worked throughout the pandemic, with the union recording 423 deaths of frontline workers and 83,200 infected or exposed nationwide in industries the union represents, Garvey said.
“I do highly recommend our employers enforce personal safety standards for their customers,” Garvey said. “My concern is everybody’s trying to rush to the finish line like this is over. It is not over. Some people are trying to force the issue and not wear a mask.”
Many companies are likely to keep safety protocols like mask-wearing, social distancing and extra cleaning in place even after Ohio lifts mandates, according to several business leaders who were interviewed.
“Even if COVID is totally under control, as best they can, just being protected from the normal flu and colds and things like that is good,” said Jim Bowman, president, chief executive and owner of Noble Tool Corp. in Dayton. “We are definitely going to have all the hand sanitizers and our toolmakers are 30 feet apart so we’re not going to cram in anybody. We’re going to keep that.”
Bowman and David Reger, president of Winston Heat Treating in Dayton, both said they will encourage but not mandate vaccines for their employees.
Vaccines are a “touchy subject” with some people, Reger said, but most workers have already gotten vaccinated. He said a few of the company’s 44 employees had COVID-19 or were exposed, but all recovered.
“We are a smaller, family business,” Reger said. “For me it’s just protecting one another and wanting to look after each other. That’s been the big focus in the last year going through this, just wanting to protect all of your employees and their families, and everyone they’re around.”
Premier Health and Kettering Health Network also are not requiring COVID-19 vaccines, according to officials at the region’s two largest hospital/health care companies.
A majority of employees have “indicated interest in receiving it,” said John Weimer, Kettering Health Network vice president of emergency and trauma services.
“As the pandemic continues, we will continue to monitor our response to best support the needs of our community,” Weimer said.
The majority of Premier Health employees have been vaccinated, said Ben Sutherly, system director of communications.
“Regardless of whether an employee chooses to receive the vaccine, we take appropriate steps for patient safety, such as requiring employees to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment when caring for patients,” Sutherly said.
Following safety protocols, like requiring masks and social distancing, has allowed many companies to continue doing business as the pandemic swept the nation in repeated surges. For business leaders the equation is pretty simple: Vaccinations layered over robust safety practices are the key to getting past the pandemic.
“It’s all about a return to normalcy and the only way we are going to get to that is to get community immunity,” Tiberi said. “Most every industry that we represent, which is really the Ohio economy, they are predicting a pretty good rest of the year, barring any setback. As the vaccine numbers go up, and people gain more confidence, they suspect the economy will improve.”
|COVID-19 vaccine facts|
|The three vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are safe and effective.|
|Side effects after vaccination are normal and very rarely serious.|
|Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses and Johnson and Johnson requires one.|
|You are fully vaccinated two weeks after the final shot.|
|Fully vaccinated people should wear a mask and socially distance in public.|
|Fully vaccinated people can visit vaccinated people indoors without a mask.|
|Fully vaccinated people can visit one household of unvaccinated people indoors without a mask unless someone is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.|
|Fully vaccinated people should avoid medium or large gatherings.|
|Fully vaccinated people can travel on domestic flights without having to be tested or quarantine.|
|It is unknown how long vaccines protect people.|
|It is unknown if vaccinated people can spread COVID-19 to others even if they have no symptoms.|
|It is unknown how well the vaccines protect against the variants now spreading in the U.S.|
|Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention|