Updated: october 7th, 2021

COVID-19 Employer Policies

A Decision Tool for Business Leaders
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Key Questions

Safely Reopening Workplaces

about this tool

A Decision Tool for Employers

As the highly contagious Delta variant drives a surge in new COVID-19 cases across the United States, employers face important questions about how best to protect workers and customers. This guide asks some of the crucial questions, and offers the latest health, legal and other considerations to inform companies’ decision-making. As employers weigh their options, they should prioritize the health and safety of workers and customers and consider local community vaccination rates and guidance from public health officials.

Health Action Alliance advises that a fully vaccinated workforce creates the safest possible workplace environment for employees and customers. If a vaccination requirement is not an option for your business, we recommend these four steps:

  • Routine Testing: Require all workers and regular visitors (not retail customers) to be routinely screened with a rapid test, at least weekly. Repeated negative tests provide a high degree of certainty that the individual is not infectious.
  • Proof of Vaccination: Allow anyone who provides proof of full vaccination (accounting for the appropriate time period after the final vaccine) to bypass the routine testing requirement.
  • Support Workers: Employers are encouraged to provide paid time off for vaccinations and recovery from possible side effects — which the Department of Labor will now require for employers of 100+ workers. 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: Require masks for all employees and customers, regardless of vaccination status, in areas with substantial or high transmission. As more people get vaccinated in these areas, transmission rates  are expected to drop.

  

The information in this guide is based on public health recommendations 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 recommendations from the Health Action Alliance and National Safety Council. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and there are important workplace exceptions to some of these approaches - notably, in healthcare settings that are governed by OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard and transportation settings that are subject to CDC’s face mask order.

All employers are encouraged to develop a COVID-19 vaccination policy and workplace safety protocol. They should also plan to regularly evaluate and update policies and protocols as the pandemic and federal, state and local guidance evolve. 


Considerations below are based on the best available information as of mid-August 2021. Employers should consult their legal counsel before making any decisions about workplace policies related to the pandemic.


Question 1

Must I require COVID-19 vaccination for my employees?

  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19, including severe illness and death.


  • COVID-19 vaccines are effective against severe disease and death from variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 currently circulating in the United States, including the Delta variant.


  • The CDC recommends people get vaccinated even if they have already had COVID-19. Evidence is emerging that people get better protection by being fully vaccinated compared with having had COVID-19.


  • A fully vaccinated workforce creates the safest possible environment for employees and customers. 


  • Infections happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant. When these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild.


  • If you are fully vaccinated and become infected with the Delta variant, you can spread the virus to others, even if you don’t have many symptoms. CDC now recommends that everyone wear masks in public indoor spaces in areas of substantial or high transmission, regardless of vaccination status.


  • People with compromised or weakened immune systems may not build the same level of immunity after vaccination. CDC recommends people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised should receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after the initial 2 doses. Workers who may have weakened immune systems should be encouraged to talk to their healthcare provider about whether a third dose or other precautions are right for them.


  • There are multiple COVID-19 vaccines that have been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means the clinical evidence for the vaccines have met the agency's rigorous scientific standards and are considered to be safe and effective. They have been studied in clinical trials with large and diverse groups of people, of various ages, races and ethnicities.  


  • On August 23, 2021, the FDA announced full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adults ages 16 and older. Full FDA approval takes longer than Emergency Use Authorization because more data needs to be processed and reviewed over a longer period of time. When a product is fully approved by the FDA, patients can be assured that its recommendation is grounded in large amounts of scientific data. 


  • Unvaccinated employees are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, including serious cases requiring hospitalization. If infected, they could trigger additional health and safety precautions in the workplace.
  • Companies with 100 or more employees will be obligated to require vaccination for COVID-19 or weekly testing, under a forthcoming OSHA rule, announced on September 9, 2021.

  • Contractors who do business with the federal government must require their workers to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19  by December 8, 2021; weekly testing will no longer qualify as a substitute for vaccination.

    –  The only exceptions are for employees seeking an accommodation for a disability or sincerely held religious belief.
    –  Remote workers are not exempt from this requirement.
    –  Federal law supersedes any state or local law that would prohibit a company from complying.

  • According to the EEOC, employers can require vaccinations but must comply with reasonable accommodation obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for employees seeking an exemption.


  • EEOC suggests that reasonable accommodations could include masking, working at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, working modified shifts, getting periodic tests for COVID-19, teleworking, or reassigning the employee.


  • U.S. Department of Justice lawyers have also said that federal law does not prohibit public and private organizations from requiring vaccines, even if those vaccines have only Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). 


  • For companies not covered under its forthcoming rule, OSHA’s latest guidance encourages employers to consider requiring workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing, in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing (if they remain unvaccinated).

  • In the unlikely event that an employee experienced a rare but severe complication from a required vaccine, they would be eligible for compensation through government-provided workers compensation.
  • A growing number of private companies are requiring COVID-19 vaccines for all or part of their workforce. 


  • Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is requiring that a large portion of its workers — an estimated 1.6 million, including those at its headquarters — receive a vaccine. The Walt Disney Company, Google, United Airlines, Tyson Foods and Uber are among hundreds of companies that have publicly announced vaccine requirements for all or some of their workers.


  • If working remotely remains an option for your entire workforce, a vaccine requirement may not be necessary. But if your workplace requires in-person employees, it may be the best option to ensure worker safety. 


  • Employers should be clear about who is subject to a vaccine requirement. Separate requirements for different classes of workers risks creating separate tiers of safety that negatively impact workers from vulnerable populations.  


  • Workforce support is likely to be highest in environments with the highest risk of exposure and transmission.


  • According to new polling, a  rising number of unvaccinated workers say they would be likely to get vaccinated if their employer required it.


  • A workforce vaccine requirement, even in lower-risk environments, may increase customers’ sense of safety.


  • Companies with higher rates of vaccination are less likely to incur steep healthcare insurance premium costs caused by severe COVID-19 illnesses. These costs are preventable due to the free availability of vaccines.


  • Requiring vaccinations for all workers may be less of a burden on those from disproportionately impacted communities compared to frequent testing, especially if employees have to pay for testing themselves.


  • Employers may incur some administrative costs in tracking vaccination compliance and safeguarding employees’ confidential medical information.


  • Employers should not need to require booster shots at this time. All people — even those eligible for a booster shot — remain “fully vaccinated” two weeks after their second dose of a 2-shot series, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


  • It is important to note that some employees may have strongly held beliefs about COVID-19 and vaccines that derive from misinformation or the politicization of the pandemic. Navigating misinformation and strongly held beliefs that aren’t based in fact requires respectful, open conversation and careful communication. 


  • Before implementing a vaccine requirement, it will be important to engage employees in conversations about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and why a fully vaccinated workforce is aligned with your business values and operations.


  • Employers that require vaccines should make it as easy as possible for employees to get vaccinated.


  • Allow ample time for workers to get vaccinated. Employers may set separate deadlines for a first and second dose. Workers with barriers to health access may need time or assistance to make arrangements.


  • Availability and access are additional drivers of vaccine resistance. Employers, even those not obligated by OSHA, may consider providing paid time off for vaccination appointments. Setting up on-site vaccine clinics or providing transportation or childcare for appointments also helps remove barriers to vaccination.  


  • Businesses should measure their policy’s effectiveness, including changes in vaccination rates, exemptions requested and received, administrative costs, and employee turnover. These metrics should be evaluated in real time in order to adjust the policy as needed or communicate encouraging milestones to workers.


  • Employers are encouraged to communicate a vaccine requirement policy in the context of company values and public health recommendations that are intended to protect worker health and safety.
Must I require COVID-19 vaccination for my employees?
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Question 2

How should I handle vaccine exemption requests?

  • A fully vaccinated workforce creates the safest possible environment for employees and customers. 


  • Unvaccinated employees are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, including serious cases requiring hospitalization. If infected, they could trigger additional health and safety precautions in the workplace.


  • The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.


  • In response to the rapidly spreading Delta variant, CDC now recommends that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. 


  • Federal contractors must comply with CDC making guidelines. Unvaccinated workers and visitors must wear masks indoors at all times, with limited exceptions.
  • Employers should require all exemption requests be made in writing, and should store these requests securely, in order to show compliance with relevant laws, as well as OSHA requirements.


  • Employers should develop and apply standard, written criteria for reviewing, granting or denying exemption requests.


  • If an employee certifies that they cannot get vaccinated due to a disability, Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations, such as mask wearing, social distancing, remote work, frequent testing, and even job reassignment. 


  • Employers may ask for documentation from a doctor regarding the nature of any impairment(s), the duration of the need for accommodation and the extent to which the impairment(s) conflict with the employer's vaccination requirement. Employers may wish to request this information via a written template.


  • There are limited exceptions to employers’ responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations. Employers must show that accommodations would cause an undue hardship or pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. 


  • Employers should check with their legal counsel before attempting to make these determinations.


  • Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees may refuse a vaccination if it violates a “sincerely held religious belief.” 


  • Employers may request further information to confirm that an objection is based in a religious belief and not a political or philosophical view. You may wish to request this information via a written template.


  • Employers should consider all possible reasonable accommodations, such as mask wearing, social distancing, remote work, restricting access to portions of the workplace, frequent testing, and even job reassignment, provided they would not impose more than a minimal (de minimis) burden on the employer. 


  • This is a lower standard to meet than the “undue hardship” standard for disability-related accommodations under the ADA, but companies are still encouraged to consult legal counsel before refusing a religious exemption request on these grounds.  


  • Top officials from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that refusing a COVID-19 vaccination poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others in the workplace and likely amounts to an undue hardship on the employer unless the employee agrees to a reasonable accommodation. 


  • Some states, like California, may have a higher standard for proving an accommodation poses an undue hardship to an employer.


  • Employers should require all exemption requests be made in writing, and should store these requests securely, both to show compliance with ADA and Civil Rights law, as well as OSHA requirements.


  • Employees do not need to provide a note from a pastor or religious leader.


  • If an employee submits what is clearly a form letter from a church or Internet source, that does not diminish that their religious belief may be sincerely held.


  • Employers should develop and apply standard, written criteria for reviewing, granting or denying exemption requests. This should focus on what was requested and what was granted.


  • Accommodations can be offered on a temporary basis. Employers may revisit accommodation requests and adjust them as necessary.


  • Companies may require employees to reapply for exemptions on a periodic basis.
  • It is important to note that some employees may have strongly held beliefs about COVID-19 and vaccines that derive from misinformation or the politicization of the pandemic. Navigating misinformation and strongly held beliefs that aren’t based in fact requires respectful, open conversation and careful communication.


  • Inaccurate information (e.g. that COVID-19 vaccines were developed from fetal stem cells) does not disqualify a religious request. It is, however, an opportunity for education. 



  • When setting deadlines for vaccination, employers should build in sufficient time to assess exemption requests and agree to reasonable accommodations.  

  • Many HR technology vendors have launched vaccine and exemption monitoring solutions for employers. If your company chooses to use one of these platforms, make sure to verify that security and access levels comply with ADA requirements.
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Question 3

What are my options for confirming vaccination status?

  • A fully vaccinated workforce creates the safest possible environment for employees and customers. 


  • Unvaccinated employees are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, including serious cases requiring hospitalization. If infected, they could trigger additional health and safety precautions in the workplace.


  • The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.


  • In response to the rapidly spreading Delta variant, CDC now recommends that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. 

  • Federal contractors must comply with CDC making guidelines. Unvaccinated workers and visitors must wear masks indoors at all times, with limited exceptions.
  • Federal contractors must require hard copy or digital documentation of their employees’ vaccination records. This may include immunization cards from a healthcare provider or pharmacy, the completed CDC-issued vaccine card, medical records, or other official vaccination documentation. A recent antibody test is not acceptable. 


  • Employers are legally allowed to request proof of vaccination, Such a request, on its own, is unlikely to reveal information about a disability and is therefore not a prohibited disability-related inquiry.


  • However, employers are encouraged to limit their inquiries about vaccine status. Asking follow-up questions about health status related to vaccination choice may violate other laws, including ADA.


  • Employers should not ask job applicants about their vaccination status. You may, however, state in the job posting that vaccination is required.


  • Employers can ask for vaccination status upon making a job offer, and before a candidate’s first day of employment. You may also set a start date that allows time for the prospective employee to get vaccinated.


  • Follow-up questions about why a prospective employee has not been vaccinated would likely violate ADA. An employer may not refuse to hire an applicant on the suspicion that they will refuse a vaccination.


  • Some states are requiring verification of vaccine status before reducing COVID-19 safety protocols.


  • The honor system - relying on the word of your employees - may be an approach to consider, but some lawyers argue that an honor system without verification may run afoul of federal or state requirements. 


  • Employers can require employees to follow masking and other safety protocols until an employee verifies vaccination status. Employees who refuse to mask-up without proof of vaccination may still be subject to disciplinary action absent an accommodation.


  • According to the EEOC, the ADA requires an employer to maintain the confidentiality of employee medical information, such as documentation or other confirmation of COVID-19 vaccination. This ADA confidentiality requirement applies regardless of where the employee gets the vaccination.

  • Under the ADA, confidential medical information related to an employee, whether requested by the employer or voluntarily disclosed by the employee, must be maintained separately from a general employment file and should only be accessed by individuals allowed by law to do so. Although not all medical information falls within the scope of the ADA’s privacy protections, erring on the side of privacy is a best practice.
  • While developing and implementing policies, employers should continue to engage employees in conversations about why changes are being made and how this could impact employees.


  • Employers requiring proof of vaccination from employees should develop a written policy for collecting the information and maintaining confidentiality by limiting access to the data to individuals who have a legitimate business need to know such information. 


  • There is a growing movement in some states to protect vaccine status as confidential private information. Employers should consider making this a moving target and be mindful of any new rules and legislation in the jurisdictions where they operate.


  • Many HR technology vendors have launched vaccine monitoring solutions for employers. If your company chooses to use one of these platforms, make sure to verify that security and access levels comply with ADA requirements.


  • Employers should not require verification through smartphone apps, in order not to disadvantage low-income workers who may not own or afford a smartphone.  
What are my options for confirming vaccination status?
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Question 4

Should I offer workers paid time off for vaccinations and recovery?

  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19, including severe illness and death.


  • COVID-19 vaccines are effective against severe disease and death from variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 currently circulating in the United States, including the Delta variant.


  • A fully vaccinated workforce creates the safest possible environment for employees and customers. 


  • Infections happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant. When these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild.


  • Unvaccinated employees are at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, including serious cases requiring hospitalization. If infected, they could trigger additional health and safety precautions in the workplace.

  • Across the country, communities with higher rates of COVID-19 vaccination have lower rates of new cases, hospitalization and death.
  • Companies with 100 or more employees will be obligated to provide paid time off to get vaccinated or to recover from possible side effects, under a forthcoming OSHA rule, announced on September 9, 2021.


  • OSHA strongly encourages all other employers to provide paid time off to workers for vaccinations and recovery from any side effects. OSHA further encourages employers to consider requiring workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing, in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing (if they remain unvaccinated).


  • The American Rescue Plan includes a  paid leave tax credit that offsets the cost for small- and medium-sized businesses to provide full pay for any time their employees need to get a COVID-19 vaccination or recover from side effects.


  • On July 29, new guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS extended federal tax credits for employers with fewer than 500 employees that provide paid time off for workers to get their children or other family members vaccinated and stay home to care for them if they suffer vaccine side effects.


  • Through September 30, 2021, employers can claim tax credits through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated themselves and recover from side effects or take their children/other family members for their COVID-19 vaccinations and stay home to care for them if they suffer vaccine side effects. 


  • Although offering paid sick leave is voluntary for employers under the federal ARP, it might be required at the state and local levels (i.e. in New York, all employees must receive paid leave for up to four hours per COVID-19 vaccine injection.)


  • Employers should ensure state and local sick leave requirements are met.
  • According to recent public opinion polling, getting paid time off from work to get vaccinated and recover from possible side effects has been cited as one of the most significant barriers to vaccination. Lower-income workers, hourly workers and workers representing disproportionately impacted communities face the greatest barriers. 


  • Providing employees paid time off to get vaccinated or accompany their eligible children and other family members to get their shots will relieve workers from the pressure of having to choose between a paycheck and the health and safety of themselves and their families. 


  • Employers that encourage vaccination and provide paid time off for vaccine appointments and recovery can significantly boost vaccine uptake among workers, according to a June 2021 KFF survey.  


  • More than two dozen leading business and public health organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Business Roundtable, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) – are calling on employers to provide paid time off and other support to working parents who want to vaccinate eligible children against COVID-19 or care for children recovering from any vaccine side effects.

  • Recent polling suggests that working parents would be more likely to get their child vaccinated if their employer offered them paid time off to do so. Lower income parents are considerably more likely to say paid time off or on-site family vaccine clinics would convince them to get their children vaccinated.
Should I offer workers paid time off for vaccinations and recovery?
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Question 5

If I don’t require vaccines, how do I manage a partially vaccinated workforce?

  • Businesses with a partially vaccinated workforce should enforce multi-layered interventions to reduce transmission of COVID-19, protect workers and protect customers. 


  • Along with appropriate masking and physical distancing policies, businesses should:
    – promote personal hygiene (i.e., frequent handwashing)
    – provide face coverings or surgical masks to customers 
    – consider conducting health checks to track COVID-19 symptoms and cases
    – improve and sustain ventilation systems
    – regularly clean and disinfect the workplace


  • The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.


  • On July 27, the CDC updated its guidance for mask wearing in response to the rapid surge in new cases, recommending that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. CDC also urged community leaders to encourage vaccination and masking to prevent further outbreaks. 


  • Federal contractors must comply with CDC making guidelines. Unvaccinated workers and visitors must wear masks indoors at all times, with limited exceptions.


  • For all areas of the United States, regardless of local transmission, CDC advised fully vaccinated people to wear a mask if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19,  if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated.


  • Unvaccinated workers who don’t follow masking and distancing protocols are more likely to get infected, potentially triggering other safety protocols. They are also more likely to infect others.

  • Immunocompromised employees are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, and vaccines may not offer as much protection. According to CDC, anyone who has a condition or takes medications that weaken their immune system may not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated. Employees who are immunocompromised should be encouraged to talk to their healthcare provider about whether they should continue taking all precautions, even after vaccination.
  • OSHA recommends that employers take steps to protect workers who are unvaccinated (including people who are not fully vaccinated) or otherwise at-risk, and also take steps to protect workers who are fully vaccinated but located in areas of substantial or high community transmission.


  • Some employers may choose to continue to follow masking and distancing protocols for all employees. This can avoid some of the legal issues raised by having different rules for different types of employees.


  • In most cases, private businesses operating in states that have issued restrictions or bans on masking still have the right to require masks for customers and employees.


  • Employers can legally separate vaccinated and unvaccinated workers in the same workplace. But some attorneys have warned against that approach.


  • Employers choosing to separate employees should  consider avoiding “disparate impacts upon individuals requiring accommodations. Additionally, any such policy will need to be justified by a “business necessity.”


  • Employers also have the option of requiring unvaccinated workers to continue to work remotely while bringing vaccinated workers back to the workplace.
  • With CDC guidance in mind, businesses operating in areas with substantial or high rates of COVID-19 transmission should require all workers and customers to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. 


  • Choosing to continue pandemic protocols (masking, physical distancing, etc.) could create morale challenges for those who are fully vaccinated.


  • While legally allowable, separating workers may not be practical or even possible in some workplaces and may create resentments around different rules.


  • For employees who are unvaccinated, employers should continue to share facts about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and the risks of remaining unvaccinated. Concurrently, employers should consider ways to make it easier for employees to get vaccinated by offering paid time off, hosting an on-site vaccination clinic, or offering modest incentives.


  • Employer encouragement and paid time off for vaccination have significantly increased vaccination rates among employees.


  • Even if not requiring vaccines, employers can still encourage voluntary disclosure of vaccination status and offer individual or group incentives within EEOC guidance.
If I don’t require vaccines, how do I manage a partially vaccinated workforce?
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Question 6

Should I require COVID-19 testing for employees?

  • CDC’s latest guidance recommends that anyone with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. 

  • CDC also recommends that anyone who has had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19 should get tested. 

  • Workers who are fully vaccinated and get exposed to someone with COVID-19 should get tested 3-5 days after exposure.

  • Workers who are not fully vaccinated should quarantine and be tested immediately after being identified, and, if negative, tested again in 5–7 days after last exposure or immediately if symptoms develop during quarantine.

  • If workers get tested because they have symptoms or were potentially exposed to the virus, they should stay away from others pending test results and follow the advice of a health care provider or a public health professional.

  • CDC recommends that employers should not require COVID-19 testing from sick employees to qualify for sick leave, or to return to work. This is to avoid exhausting healthcare provider offices and medical facilities who may be managing heavy workloads during this time.


  • There are two different types of COVID-19 testing. Antibody testing determines whether an individual has had COVID-19 in the past, while viral testing identifies an active case of COVID-19.  Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions has a COVID-19 Testing Commons that offers detailed descriptions of the variety of tests available. 

  • Employers may wish to consider utilizing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing preferentially to commonly-available “rapid tests” as PCR tests have a much higher accuracy and reliability rate compared to rapid tests.
  • Companies with 100 or more employees will be obligated to require vaccination for COVID-19 or weekly testing, under a forthcoming OSHA rule, announced on September 9, 2021.


  • Under the ADA, any medical test required from employees has to be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” 


  • By this standard, employers may ask for viral COVID-19 testing from employees initially entering the workplace or periodically if deemed necessary (i.e., in the case of contact tracing). See CDC recommendations for when screening is appropriate. 


  • Antibody testing is defined by the ADA as a medical examination. Requiring antibody testing from employees to re-enter the workplace is not permissible under the ADA. 


  • The ADA requires that employers maintain confidentiality of employee medical information, including COVID-19 test results and any reports of symptoms and temperature from daily health checks.
  • A growing number of employers, including the U.S. government, are requiring all unvaccinated workers and regular visitors (not retail customers) to be routinely screened with a rapid test, at least weekly. Repeated negative tests provide a high degree of certainty that the individual is not infectious. 


  • Workers and regular visitors who provide proof of full vaccination (accounting for the appropriate time period after the final vaccine) are typically allowed to bypass the routine testing requirement.


  • Employers need to consider who would cover the cost for testing, for how long,and how tests would be administered. Federal law does not require insurers to cover routine workplace tests..


  • In most cases, employers can ask workers to cover the cost of routine testing. Several states have laws requiring employers to pay for mandatory medical tests or reimburse employees for any such testing. 


  • Under federal law, employers must pay nonexempt employees for the time spent undergoing testing during the workday, and this may include necessary testing on employees’ days off. Employers have so far taken a range of approaches, from fully covering the costs to having unvaccinated workers pay full freight.


  • Requiring vaccinations for all workers may be less of a burden on those from disproportionately impacted communities compared to frequent testing, especially if employees have to pay for testing themselves.


  • Employers may consider asking employees to report COVID-19 symptoms through daily check-ins. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, or sore throat.  


  • Flexible sick leave policies may help employees feel supported and reduce transmission in the workplace. 

  • Although a negative viral test result may be used to shorten quarantine for unvaccinated employees who have known or suspected exposure to the virus, CDC recommends a full 14-day quarantine.
Should I require COVID-19 testing for employees?
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Question 7

Should I require my employees to wear masks?

  • COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets that are released into the air, as far as 6 feet, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. 


  • Masks are designed to contain your respiratory droplets and particles, which protects others even if you are infected but asymptomatic. A mask also provides some protection to the wearer from breathing in airborne virus.The CDC offers information for selecting the appropriate mask or respirator.  


  • The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.


  • In response to the Delta variant, the CDC also recommends that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. 


  • Federal contractors must comply with CDC making guidelines. Unvaccinated workers must wear masks indoors at all times, with limited exceptions.


  • A majority of counties across the U.S. are experiencing either “substantial” or “high” transmission rates that call for indoor mask-wearing, according to CDC. As more people get vaccinated in these areas, transmission rates are expected to drop.


  • Universal masking in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status provides an extra layer of protection to reduce the potential for COVID-19 transmission. This is especially important if it is likely that some employees or customers are not fully vaccinated.


  • For all areas of the United States, regardless of local transmission, CDC advises fully vaccinated people to wear a mask, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated. 


  • For fully vaccinated individuals who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19,  CDC recommends wearing a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. 


  • CDC recommends that all unvaccinated individuals continue wearing masks and maintaining physical distance in order to protect themselves and others.


  • Unless otherwise required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, OSHA has established that most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at risk from COVID-19 exposure. 


  • From a public health perspective, it’s safest to require masking for all employees who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.
  • Under Section 5 of the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.


  • OSHA’s latest guidance encourages employers to require all workers to wear face coverings indoors in areas with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. Further, OSHA encourages employers to provide face coverings to workers who request them at no cost, and make replacements available to workers when they request them.


  • Masks remain a polarizing symbol, and the shifting federal guidelines have led some local leaders to introduce their own policies. 


  • As of mid-August, leaders in 12 states have rejected or passed laws to ban mask mandates, including: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. In these states, private businesses still have the right to require masks for customers and employees, but most state and local government entities can no longer do so. 


  • In implementing a mask mandate, employers should remain mindful of ADA standards and offer reasonable accommodations for employees who have disabilities that interfere with their ability to wear a mask.


  • Employers should also emphasize that employees should not question, make assumptions about, or harass their coworkers for wearing (or not wearing) a mask.
  • Considering the surge in Delta variant infections, some local jurisdictions and companies have reimposed a universal mask mandate in indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status.


  • With updated CDC guidance in mind, businesses operating in areas with substantial or high rates of COVID-19 transmission should consider requiring all workers and customers to wear masks indoors. 


  • Employers should encourage fully vaccinated workers to wear masks if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated.  


  • Employers should encourage fully vaccinated workers who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and should wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.


  • Whichever option you choose, it’s important to have conversations with key employee stakeholders within the company. Make sure you have perspectives from multiple teams and employee communities.


  • It is important to note that some employees may have strongly held beliefs about COVID-19 and masks that derive from misinformation or the politicization of the pandemic. Navigating misinformation and strongly held beliefs that aren’t based in fact requires respectful, open conversation and careful communication. 


  • Employers are encouraged to communicate COVID-19 prevention policies in the context of company values and public health recommendations that are intended to protect worker health and safety. 


  • Communicate changes to masking policies using the same methods used to convey general workplace guidance. 

  • There are many types of masks workers can use to protect themselves and others from getting and spreading COVID-19. When choosing a mask, choose one that fits snugly. Learn more about how to choose a mask that fits well and offers the best protection.
Should I require my employees to wear masks?
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Question 8

Should I track or restrict employee travel?

  • Traveling, especially to areas with lower vaccination rates and/or higher infection rates, poses a significant exposure risk for unvaccinated employees. 


  • CDC recommends that domestic travel be delayed and international travel be entirely avoided until individuals are fully vaccinated. 


  • Employers should, in general, consider making remote work possible, but if business-related travel is necessary, employers should monitor travel destinations and enforce COVID-19 safety procedures for traveling employees.
  • See CDC recommendations and requirements for domestic and international travel for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Employers should develop employee travel policies that are consistent with CDC travel guidance.

  • Employers are allowed to restrict business travel for unvaccinated workers. However, for those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, employers should continue to consider whether business travel can be done safely to avoid any claim that individuals with health, disability, or religious reasons for not receiving the vaccine at all or right away are losing opportunities for compensation or advancement as a result.
  • Until all employees are fully vaccinated, employers may want to limit all non-essential business travel and/or restrict travel for unvaccinated workers Policies that allow business travel for vaccinated workers only may be a strong nudge to encourage unvaccinated workers to get their shots.


  • Most federal workers and contractors who do not attest to being fully vaccinated will be subject to restrictions on official travel.


  • In order to protect vulnerable employees who are either unvaccinated and/or immunocompromised, employers should control as much as possible against COVID-19 exposure risks and transmission.
Should I track or restrict employee travel?
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Question 9

Can I ask customers for proof of vaccination or deny service to customers who aren’t vaccinated?

  • Businesses with a partially vaccinated customer base should enforce multi-layered interventions to reduce transmission of COVID-19, protect workers and protect customers. 


  • Along with appropriate masking and physical distancing policies, businesses should:
    – promote personal hygiene (i.e., frequent handwashing)
    – provide face coverings or surgical masks to customers 
    – consider conducting health checks of customers to track COVID-19 symptoms and cases
    – improve and sustain ventilation systems
    – regularly clean and disinfect the workplace


  • In certain higher-risk settings where there is close interaction between employees and customers (e.g., retail, restaurants, travel, live events, etc.), the potential for transmission of COVID-19 is greater.

  • CDC recommends that unvaccinated individuals continue wearing masks and maintaining physical distance in order to protect themselves and others.
  • In most states, requiring proof of vaccination is perfectly legal. Business owners must make the decision that best suits their business’s needs, while protecting staff and customers.


  • OSHA recommends that retailers and other businesses in higher-risk settings should encourage or require masking and social distancing for all customers and visitors who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.


  • As of mid-August, leaders in 12 states have rejected or passed laws to ban mask mandates, including: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. In these states, private businesses still have the right to require masks for customers. 


  • In most cases, the ADA prevents businesses from establishing a blanket policy refusing service to unvaccinated customers. Instead, if a customer has not been vaccinated or refuses to disclose their vaccination status, businesses can require the customer to wear a mask or can organize an outside delivery of their purchase. If the customer refuses to agree to the compromise, businesses can then refuse to provide a service on health and safety grounds.


  • For businesses set on requiring proof of vaccination from customers, how to do so is the question that’s top of mind. While CDC vaccination cards may work for the moment, paper records are not a long-term solution. Since they can be forged or misplaced, many companies and local jurisdictions are considering digital verification options.


  • The Biden Administration has ruled out use of a federal vaccine passport program or requirement.
  • For some customers, requiring proof of vaccination may be perceived as an infringement on personal freedom. For others, requiring proof of vaccination may be interpreted as classist or racist since Black, Hispanic and other communities of color have faced greater barriers to vaccines and, as a result, have lower rates of vaccination compared to the general population. 


  • Although it’s legal in most states to ask customers for proof of vaccination, businesses could risk alienating customers by doing so. Especially as many retailers, restaurants, and small businesses have struggled since the pandemic began, many business owners don’t want to risk customer backlash.


  • Masks remain a polarizing symbol, and the shifting federal guidelines have led to some tragic incidents of customer outrage and workplace violence. CDC has created this guide to help retail, services, and other customer-based businesses limit violence that may occur as a result of policies and practices that are intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among employees and customers.


  • The wishes of employees in customer-facing roles further complicate the issue. According to a recent survey, 44% of employees do not feel comfortable interacting with unvaccinated customers.  


  • In areas with lower vaccination rates or higher rates of COVID-19 transmission, this may mean requiring vaccines as a prerequisite for service. Other business owners will choose to take precautionary measures, like enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing for all.
Can I ask customers for proof of vaccination or deny service to customers who aren’t vaccinated?
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Decision Tool
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Question 10

What other public health and safety issues do I need to consider?

  • Employers with a partially vaccinated workforce should enforce multi-layered interventions to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
  • Along with appropriate masking and physical distancing policies, employers should:
    - provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene (i.e. frequent handwashing)
    - provide face coverings or surgical masks at no cost
    - consider conducting daily health checks of employees to track COVID-19 symptoms and cases
    - improve and sustain ventilation systems
    - regularly clean and disinfect the workplace
    - record and report COVID-19 cases and deaths
    - implement protections from discrimination for following occupational safety and health activities
  • In certain higher-risk settings where there is close interaction between employees and customers (e.g., retail, restaurants, travel, live events, etc.), the potential for transmission of COVID-19 is greater.
  • The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.
  • In response to the rapidly spreading Delta variant, CDC now recommends that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission
  • Under Section 5 of the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
  • OSHA requirements apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19.
  • CDC recommendations as well as mandatory OSHA standards, including requirements for PPE, respiratory protection, sanitation, and employee access to medical records, should be considered in developing a COVID-19 response plan.
  • Employers should clearly communicate to employees their COVID-19 procedures and guidelines and implement a verification process of compliance with workplace policies.
  • Throughout the pandemic, employers have been among the most trusted sources of COVID-19 information and guidance for employees. To accelerate nationwide vaccination efforts, employers should consider educating employees on COVID-19 vaccine safety and encourage workers to get vaccinated.
  • On top of misinformation, availability and access are additional drivers of vaccine resistance. Employers may also consider providing paid time off or setting up on-site vaccine clinics to remove barriers to vaccination.
  • Check out HAA and NSC’s Guidance for Safer Workplace Returns for more detailed information and guidance about workplace health and safety.
What other public health and safety issues do I need to consider?
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Yes