Introduction

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employer action has been an essential component of a strong national response. Workers whose employers encouraged them to get vaccinated, and offered support like paid time off to do it, are much more likely to be vaccinated today. Employer-instituted vaccine requirements have been proven to be effective. Thousands of employers representing millions of workers have required those workers to get vaccinated and have routinely achieved vaccination rates of 95 percent or higher with minimal disruption to the workforce.

There is hope in the sharp decline in cases and hospitalizations that we will soon move beyond the pandemic phase of COVID-19 and into a “new normal.” For that to happen—to be able to prevent another wave from future variants, to get back to our lives and back to business with certainty and confidence—medical experts advise that we must encourage all Americans to keep their vaccinations up to date and continue the practices that have helped prevent the spread of the disease.

We are in a much better place than we were a year ago. We have a better understanding of how to protect ourselves, our employees and our communities. And we have the benefit of experience from employers whose workplace policies, communication and engagement strategies, and thoughtful public health action have helped workers choose vaccination, slowed the spread of the virus and averted staff losses. 

This guide is designed to help you get started.

Summary of Recommendations

A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date creates the safest possible workplace environment for employees and customers. If a vaccination requirement is not an option for your business, we recommend these steps:

  • Proof of Vaccination: Confirming the vaccination status of your workers is a key step for individual follow-up conversations, as well as for implementing any incentives (“carrots”) or nudges (“sticks”) to improve workplace safety.  
  • Routine Testing: If your COVID-19 Community Level is “medium” or “high,” consider requiring unvaccinated workers and regular visitors (not retail customers) to be routinely screened with a rapid test, at least weekly.
  • Support Workers: Employers should provide paid time off for vaccinations and booster shots, as well as for recovery from possible side effects. Businesses should extend this support to  working parents who choose to vaccinate eligible children, too. Consider organizing on-site vaccination clinics for workers and families, or offering transportation support, childcare or incentives to improve access to vaccines.
  • Mask Use: Consider requiring unvaccinated workers and customers to wear masks indoors if your COVID-19 Community Level is “medium.” Where the local COVID-19 Community Level is “high,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Ventilation: All businesses should seek ways to maintain improved ventilation.

All employers are encouraged to: 

 

  1. Create a clear COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, part-time workers, temporary workers and contractors that requires or encourages vaccination, reduces barriers and makes it easy for them to get vaccinated. Your policy should be aligned with your company’s values and reflect the unique needs, concerns and questions of diverse communities. 
  1. Share facts about the safety and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines. Invite trusted experts to answer questions during paid working hours.
  1. Create a safe, supportive workplace culture where all workers feel supported. Understand that no community shares all of the same beliefs, perceptions and concerns. Every individual is unique, and every employee deserves to have their questions answered before making a decision about vaccines. Getting vaccinated is an individual choice that you should respect — even if it means an employee cannot continue working for you.
  1. Strengthen vaccination efforts in your community by engaging with public health departments, nonprofit organizations and others involved in the vaccine response.

 

As you consider how to implement your company’s COVID-19 vaccination policy and workplace safety protocols, you should be guided by trust and empathy, meaningful input from workers representing communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the specific values of your company, and needs of your community.


Disclaimer

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Strengthen Your COVID-19 Vaccination Policy and Workplace Safety Protocol

All employers are encouraged to develop a COVID-19 vaccination policy and workplace safety protocol that reflects a careful review of the latest public health, legal and safety considerations. As employers weigh these options, they should prioritize the health and safety of workers and customers and consider local community vaccination rates and guidance from local public health officials. They should also plan to regularly evaluate and update policies and protocols as the pandemic and federal, state and local guidance evolve.

 

A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date creates the safest possible workplace environment for employees and customers. The CDC recommends that all people ages 5 and older get vaccinated, and that all people ages 12 and over get a booster shot (five months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). People aged 50 and over and any adult who received a Johnson & Johnson booster are eligible for a second booster shot 4 months after their previous one, as are certain immunocompromised people. The CDC recommends vaccination even if people have already had COVID-19, as evidence is emerging that being fully vaccinated provides greater protection. Vaccines are free and widely available at more than 80,000 locations across the country, including over 40,000 retail pharmacies. Ninety percent of Americans live within five miles of a vaccine site. 

 

Employers should develop a plan to remove barriers to vaccination and make it easier for workers to get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity. Existing plans and policies around testing and masking may need to be updated to reflect the latest recommendations as public health conditions evolve.  

 

Step 1: Designate a coordinator or task force.

 

Building your company’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy and Workplace Safety Protocol will require navigating technical, logistical, organizational and communications challenges. Identify a leader within your company who’s adept at responding to employee, worker and stakeholder questions, and is well-positioned to coordinate with management, human resources, employee resource groups, workers and labor representatives, as appropriate. Leading your company’s COVID-19 vaccine planning is a complex and time-consuming assignment, so be sure to empower a leader who has the authority, trust, empathy, communication skills and capacity to serve in this role. 

 

For larger companies, you may want to establish a COVID-19 vaccine task force with representation from each of the key departments. Input from a racially and ethnically diverse cross section of your company can help ensure you understand specific needs and questions within communities that have been hit hardest by the virus.  

 

What should they do?

 

  • Review the latest public health, legal and safety considerations that can inform the development of your company’s plan;
  • Coordinate among different internal departments (e.g. legal, health, employee resource groups) and external stakeholders (e.g. unions, public health departments, health insurance providers);
  • Identify and minimize any barriers to vaccination, such as paid time off, daycare or transportation;
  • Gather employee and worker feedback in real time and listen to questions and concerns;
  • Engage employees and workers from disproportionately impacted communities, including via employee resource groups and other networks that represent workers at highest risk;
  • Stay abreast of employee vaccination trends and concerns to adapt the plan as needed;
  • Oversee internal and external vaccination communications.
  • Identify opportunities for your company to partner with state and local public health agencies and community-based organizations to support vaccine distribution in your area.
  • Establish measurements of your policy’s effectiveness, including changes in vaccination rates, exemptions requested and received, administrative costs, employee satisfaction, and personnel turnover


Step 2: Engage workforce populations that may have unique questions, concerns or access needs.
 

As you develop or refine your plan, make sure you proactively engage leaders of your company’s employee resource or affinity groups and other employee populations that may have unique questions, concerns or access needs. This isn’t about convincing workers to trust the vaccine; it’s about understanding their perspectives and concerns, and working together to identify solutions. Because some demographic groups face barriers to vaccines, those employees may be negatively and disproportionately impacted by a vaccination requirement. Below are strategies you may consider:

  • Black, Hispanic, Asian-American, American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and have experienced higher rates of hospitalization, severe illness and death. If you’re not a member of these population groups, start by learning more about why these inequities exist and how they might contribute to additional questions about vaccines. You can support employees and workers by acknowledging the deep historical traumas and structural inequalities that lead to poorer health outcomes and contribute to greater mistrust.
  • Invite leaders from your company’s employee resource groups to participate in your company’s COVID-19 Vaccine task force and meaningfully contribute to developing your company’s vaccine plan.
  • Organize listening sessions with workers representing communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 to make sure all interests are heard, and develop plans that meet the communities’ needs 
  • Reach out to local community organizations, healthcare provider networks, faith leaders or other trusted influencers within diverse populations to seek their counsel and feedback on your company’s plan. 

 

Step 3: Draft your company policy.

A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date creates the safest possible workplace environment for employees and customers. Thousands of companies implemented their own policies to require vaccinations for all or part of their workforce, adding to the millions of federal workers now required to show proof of vaccination. If a vaccination requirement is not an option for your business, we recommend these steps:

 

  • Proof of Vaccination: Confirming the vaccination status of your workers is a key step for individual follow-up conversations, as well as for implementing any incentives (“carrots”) or nudges (“sticks”) to improve workplace safety. 
  • Routine Testing: If your COVID-19 Community Level is “medium” or “high,” consider requiring unvaccinated workers and regular visitors (not retail customers) to be routinely screened with a rapid test, at least weekly.
  • Support Workers: Employers should provide paid time off for vaccinations and booster shots, as well as for recovery from possible side effects. Businesses should extend this support to working parents who choose to vaccinate eligible children, too. Consider organizing on-site vaccination clinics for workers and families, or offering transportation support, childcare or incentives to improve access to vaccines.
  • Mask Use: Consider requiring unvaccinated workers and customers to wear masks indoors if your COVID-19 Community Level is “medium.” Where the local COVID-19 Community Level is “high,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Consider providing high-quality masks (N95 or KN95-rated) for your employees.
  • Ventilation: All businesses should seek ways to maintain improved ventilation.

You may customize your workplace policy using our Sample COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement Policy as a guide.

 

Additionally, our Guides for Responding to Requests for Medical Exemptions and Religious Exemptions provide step-by-step recommendations for handling these requests and providing reasonable accommodations. And our Sample Request Forms for Medical Exemptions and Religious Exemptions will help your company assess these requests in a consistent and orderly way.

 

We’ve created an interactive Decision Tool with the latest health, legal and safety considerations to help guide your planning and decision-making. Our recommendations are based on public health guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), safety guidance offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), legal considerations established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and additional feedback from COVID Collaborative and the National Safety Council. 

 

Here are some of the key questions your company’s policy should address:

 

Vaccine Requirements

 

Paid Time Off & Incentives

 

Masking & Other Safety Protocols

 

Prioritize Equity 

Equity should be top of mind as you develop your policy. Apply an equity and access “lens” to ask yourself whether your policy risks harming workers from populations already disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Here are some steps your company can take:

  • Consider applying a single policy across all sectors of your workplace 

Having different requirements for different sectors of your workforce — for example, requiring vaccines for employees in the office, but not for those in customer-facing roles — risks creating a tiered system of safety. Especially if workers from disproportionately affected communities predominate in certain roles, employers should strive for a consistent policy that prioritizes everyone’s health and safety. Make policies and enforcement transparent, consistent and equitable across your workforce.

  • Offer positive incentives before taking punitive actions.

Well-intended “nudges,” such as healthcare plan surcharges on unvaccinated workers, might make health insurance unaffordable for lower-income employees, hourly workers and communities of color. As an alternative, ask workers from hard-hit communities what incentives would encourage them to get vaccinated and offer that instead. 

  • Be thoughtful about your messengers and messages.

Cultivate trusted messengers who reflect a diversity of communities and can speak to the unique concerns of affected groups. (This tip sheet can help you source a trusted doctor or community leader). It’s also important to make sure you have messaging and resources in Spanish or other native languages spoken by your workforce. In written communications and in conversation, build trust, express empathy and listen for what’s holding people back then help them find their own reason to get vaccinated. 

  • Share stories from like-minded employees who’ve gotten vaccinated and "boosted."

Invite employees from underrepresented groups who have been vaccinated to share their vaccination experience, as well as stories of how the pandemic may have impacted them and their families. Studies show that people are 40 percent more likely to get vaccinated if they know a friend or family member who was vaccinated, too, and reassuring stories from peers are almost as important as getting the facts.

  • Provide ample time for employees to get vaccinated, including time that may be needed to learn more about vaccines or get questions answered from a doctor or other trusted source.

Paid time off to get vaccinated and "boosted" and to recover from possible side effects — for workers themselves and eligible family members — is one of the most significant barriers to vaccination. Even beyond that, employees may need time or assistance to navigate online portals to book appointments, to arrange travel to/from their vaccine appointment, and to plan for potential side effects to the vaccine. Some workers may need time to learn more about vaccines, speak with a doctor or other trusted source or consider how they’ll respond to workplace requirements before ultimately getting their shot.  And finally, make sure to extend paid time off, incentives and other benefits across your entire workforce, including hourly, seasonal, and part-time workers.

 

Employers should also consult their legal counsel and review state and local laws before making any decisions about workplace policies related to the pandemic. 

 

Additional Ways to Support Workers

Research has shown additional ways employers can support or incentivize workers to get vaccinated.

  • Cover out-of-pocket expenses associated with vaccination. This could include offering an Uber or Lyft gift card for transportation, a small stipend for lunch or reimbursement for child care.  
  • Extend benefits and support to your entire workforce, including temporary, part-time or contract workers.
  • Help identify where workers can get vaccinated. Search vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you. 
  • Offer internet access or language support services to help employees and workers schedule appointments.
  • Some small businesses may be able to partner with a local public health department or other providers to offer on-site vaccinations to employees and workers, even during late shifts, and to their eligible family members.
  • Consider providing small prizes, rewards or other modest financial incentives (i.e., gift cards, coupons, tokens, etc.) to employees and customers workers who get vaccinated.

 

Remind employees that vaccines are free and available to everyone in the United States ages 5 and older, regardless of immigration status. You don’t need health insurance to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Educate and Encourage Your Workforce

Public health experts warn that Americans must get vaccinated and keep their vaccinations up to date. As an employer, the most important thing you can do is communicate with your employees, workers and customers about the benefits and safety of COVID-19 vaccines and encourage them to get vaccinated. Your outreach can also help counter misinformation about vaccines.

Vaccines save lives. They also require trust, transparency and accountability. The factors that influence a person’s decision to get vaccinated are nuanced and affected by how they see and experience the world. Science and facts aren’t the only predictors of human behavior. People make vaccine decisions based on social norms, their perceptions of how others will view their decision, feedback from people they trust, their perceptions of risk, the consistency of messages and the convenience of getting vaccinated.

It all starts with trust.

Fortunately, new research suggests that Americans trust their employers more than they trust government leaders, community leaders and even religious leaders. That’s why it’s important you share trusted information from the CDC, FDA and other public health experts, as well as perspectives and encouragement from trusted community leaders to help your employees, workers, customers and other stakeholders make the best decisions for themselves and their families. And, you can listen and respond to their questions and needs, as well as dispel misinformation about company policies or vaccination issues that may arise.


All vaccine requirements need thoughtful planning and communication. To help you get started, we offer general communications guidance and a range of free tools and resources to help employers communicate about COVID-19 vaccine policies to workers, customers and the media. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so you should be prepared to customize outreach for groups with unique needs and questions. 

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Support Vaccine Distribution in Your Community

Delivering and administering hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations represented one the greatest communications, logistical and public health challenges in our country’s history. The unique expertise and resources within the private sector have helped accelerate the vaccine response, save lives and contribute to a faster recovery.  


There are many ways your company might support local public health officials and strengthen vaccine distribution in your community. 

  • Lead by example. As a trusted leader in your community, you can encourage other businesses to share facts about the safety and benefits of vaccines and boosters; offer paid time off to workers for vaccine appointments and recovery, including to attend vaccine appointments with eligible children; and align workplace safety protocols with the latest public health guidance.
  • Encourage your local chamber of commerce or Rotary club to host an educational conversation on the role of businesses in the vaccine response, and volunteer to share what you’ve learned.
  • Encourage your customers to get vaccinated by offering special coupons, discounts or other incentives. (We’ve compiled great examples of companies offering customer incentives.) 
  • Share vaccine facts on your product packaging or at your place of business.
  • Donate advertising space or airtime to your local public health department or to community organizations that are educating the public about the vaccines. (Or if they don’t have a local campaign, sponsor them to create one or donate your ad agency’s time to help.)
  • Engage with your local public health department to help address other needs, including transportation, childcare, language support or other services that may help improve access and remove barriers to vaccination in your community.

If you’d like to donate space, staff, or supplies to aid local vaccination efforts, your local public health department is the place to start. For those who are not already in contact with their local public health department, this outreach can serve as an introduction that helps to build a longer-term partnership focused on your company’s health, wellness and preparedness goals. 

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Our Tools and Resources

We’ve prepared tools, templates and communications resources to help you engage employees, workers, customers and other stakeholders:

Health Action Alliance’s digital resource hub contains our full suite of tools, resources, case studies, training opportunities and information about upcoming events. You can also SIGN UP to receive our latest resources, updates and event invitations!

Additional Resources

CDC Resources

 

Health Equity

 

Data and Tracking

 

Public Opinion

 

Mental Health

 

Media & Entertainment

 

Communications

 

Employer Resources

Small Business Resources


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About HAA

The Health Action Alliance unlocks the power of business to create a healthier workforce and thriving communities.


Guided by the nation’s most trusted sources on public health, the companies in our network:


  • Accelerate the response to the most pressing health challenges
  • Strengthen resilience by prioritizing the health of their communities
  • Emphasize equity to advance access to health for all
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