Time to Review COVID-19 Vaccination-or-Testing ETS Compliance Strategy

The past two months have been a rollercoaster for employers covered by the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate. First, there was the wait for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines. After the official release, including tight deadlines for implementation, the federal court challenged them. It overturned them at a national level on December 17, and OSHA will start enforcing its regulations from January 10. Employers need to be ready.

A Recap of The Legal Situation

The administration’s mandate covers all privately owned businesses with more than 100 employees who regularly contact colleagues or customers. The directive applies when a company employs 100 or more staff who are not permanently working remotely. The location of the employees does not matter.

When the Sixth Circuit Court reinstated OSHA’s emergency temporary standards (ETS) after finding the organization had not overstepped its mandate, OSHA reacted by setting new deadlines. The agency agreed not to use its powers of enforcement until January 10. This grace period for employers is now over, and those who are not complying with the first stage of the ETS face high fines. Most businesses that have struggled to survive two years of economic challenges can hardly afford to pay completely avoidable penalties.

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What Employers Need to Do Now

The first stage of the ETS requires vaccination verification and mandates masks for unvaccinated employees. Employers also need to have a solid vaccine and testing policy in place.

Vaccine Policy

To comply with the requirements, most employers and their HR departments need to draft this policy. Without clear guidelines for managers and employees to follow, too many details may be left to interpretation. It will become difficult, especially in larger organizations with thousands of staff across different locations. If you have not yet written a vaccination and testing policy for your company, there is no more time to lose.

Your company policy must clearly state which employees’ vaccination is required and which exceptions are acceptable for your organization. Employers must consider exceptions on religious grounds or for reasons related to disability. They also have to lay out options for regular testing. Anyone opting against vaccination is required to wear a face mask at work on top of routine testing. This policy needs to be communicated clearly to employees at all levels of the business.

Vaccination Verification

Vaccination verification is also mandatory from January 10. It means HR teams need to determine the vaccination status of each employee and obtain proof of vaccination. Organizations need to retain these documents securely as they form part of the employee’s medical records.

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When employer-mandated vaccines were first being debated, skeptics raised questions about whether employers had the right to ask their staff about this kind of medical information. However, since then, the Department of Health & Human Services ruled that HIPAA privacy rules do not stop an employer from requesting a team member’s vaccination status.

For large organizations, managing this amount of information can be a challenge. After all, spreadsheets with hundreds or even thousands of rows of data are impractical to maintain or gain meaningful information. Consider working with a partner and using a cloud-based platform instead to comply with your vaccination verification requirements.

Tools like the vaccination verification platform powered by TrueCare™ allow you to keep employee records safely in one place. They make the verification process straightforward. Plus, a user-friendly dashboard will enable you to access information either company-wide or by individual location.

It makes it easy to determine the vaccination status of the entire company.

Make sure you communicate your vaccination verification strategy to your team. Employees can upload their vaccine certificate with many platforms, relieving your HR team’s workload.

What If Employees Test Positive?

While OSHA will not enforce the weekly testing component of the ETS until early February, employers already need a clear policy for dealing with those who become infected.

Employees need to understand it is their responsibility to report a positive COVID-19 test or diagnosis to their managers. They will then be required to stay away from the workplace until they meet all criteria for a safe return to work.

The Next Step

Employers need to review (or create) their vaccine policy and communicate it clearly to employees, allowing everyone to understand what is required of them. Next, as an HR professional or a business owner, you need to ensure that you know the vaccination status of your team and consider offering on-site vaccinations for those not yet fully protected.

Remember this is only the first step in the implementation of the standards. Weekly testing will be required from next month for those opting against vaccination.

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