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Updated: MAY 26, 2022

COVID-19 Employer Policies

A Decision Tool for Business Leaders
created in partnership with
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Key Questions

Safely Reopening Workplaces

about this tool

A Decision Tool for Employers

Thanks to our combined efforts on vaccination, testing, high quality masks, and improved ventilation, we now have a lower overall risk of severe disease from COVID-19 than we did earlier in the pandemic. Still, the virus will continue to circulate in our communities. To prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare systems and endangering vulnerable people, employers have a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect workers and customers.


A new framework from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will help employers assess local risks and respond accordingly. This guide asks some of the crucial questions for workplace safety, 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 refer to their COVID-19 Community Level to assess local risks and respond accordingly.

Health Action Alliance advises that 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 five 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. Consider organizing periodic on-site vaccination clinics for workers and families to keep their vaccinations up to date 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.


The information in this guide is based on public health recommendations from the 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 additional and stricter rules in some settings, notably, in healthcare settings that are governed by OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards.


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 February 2022. Employers should consult their legal counsel before making any decisions about workplace policies related to the pandemic.


Question 1

Should I require COVID-19 vaccination for my employees?

  • Existing vaccines have been proven safe and effective at preventing the spread of  COVID-19 and preventing severe illness and death.


  • Existing vaccines and boosters are being shown to be effective at preventing serious illness.


  • The CDC recommends people get vaccinated and boosted even if they have already had COVID-19. Evidence is emerging that people get better protection by keeping their vaccinations up to date compared with having had COVID-19.


  • A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date creates the safest possible environment for employees and customers.


  • Vaccination offers significant protection against infection. When these infections occur among vaccinated people—particularly those who have received a booster—they tend to be less severe.


  • The vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths occur in unvaccinated people.


  • 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.


  • If you are fully vaccinated and become infected with COVID-19, you can spread the virus to others, even if you don’t have many symptoms. The CDC now recommends that everyone wear masks in public indoor spaces in areas of substantial or high transmission, regardless of vaccination status.


  • The clinical evidence for the vaccines has met the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 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.  


  • Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have received full FDA approval. When a product is fully approved by the FDA, patients can be assured that its recommendation is grounded in large amounts of scientific data.


  • A person is considered up to date on their vaccinations after receiving a booster shot. Boosters are available five months after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People aged 50 and over and any adult who received a Johnson & Johnson booster are recommended for a second booster shot 4 months after their previous one, as are certain immunocompromised people.


  • U.S. Department of Justice lawyers have also said that federal law does not prohibit public and private organizations from requiring vaccines.

  • Most states allow employers to establish their own company vaccination and testing policies, including vaccine requirements for workers, regular testing,


  • OSHA issued an emergency rule—currently  on hold—that would obligate contractors who do business with the federal government to require their workers to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with no testing alternative.    

    –  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.

  • OSHA encourages all employers to consider requiring workers to get vaccinated or 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 under most state laws.
  • Thousands of private companies require COVID-19 vaccines for all or part of their workforce.


  • New polling shows 3 in 10 workers report being required by their employers to be vaccinated.


  • Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, chose to require 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 also among hundreds of companies that have publicly announced vaccine requirements for all or some of their workers.


  • Many companies with vaccine requirements have seen compliance rates well above 95 percent with minimal resignations or terminations.


  • The U.S. government, the country’s largest employer, now requires all federal workers to be vaccinated.

  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • Availability and access are additional drivers of vaccine resistance. Employers should provide paid time off for vaccination and booster appointments and recovery from side effects.


  • 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. Evaluating them in real time can help employers adjust their 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.

Should I require COVID-19 vaccination for my employees?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

Question 2

How should I handle vaccine exemption requests?

  • A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date 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.


  • See our step-by-step guides for responding to medical and religious exemption requests.


  • 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.

  • 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.
How should I handle vaccine exemption requests?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

Question 3

What are my options for confirming vaccination status?

  • A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date 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.


  • A hard copy or digital copy of an immunization card from a healthcare provider or pharmacy; the completed CDC-issued vaccine card; or medical records are sufficient to verify vaccination status.  A recent antibody test is not acceptable.


  • All employers are legally allowed to request proof of vaccination, Do not ask for any medical or genetic information with the proof of vaccination.


  • 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.


  • 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 confirmation of COVID-19 vaccination.

  • Under the ADA, confidential medical information related to an employee must be maintained separately from a general employment file and should only be accessed by individuals allowed by law to do so.
  • 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?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

Question 4

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

  • Existing COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective at preventing the spread of  COVID-19 and preventing severe illness and death.


  • A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date creates the safest possible environment for employees and customers.


  • Vaccination offers significant protection. When these infections occur among vaccinated people—particularly those who have received a booster—they tend to be less severe.


  • A person is considered up to date on their vaccinations after receiving a booster shot.  Boosters are available  five months after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People aged 50 and over and any adult who received a Johnson & Johnson booster are recommended for a second booster shot 4 months after their previous one, as are certain immunocompromised people.


  • The vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths occur in unvaccinated people.


  • 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.
  • OSHA strongly encourages 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).



  • Employers should ensure state and local sick leave requirements are met, including local law requiring paid time off for COVID-19 vaccination.
  • According to recent public opinion polling, not having 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.


  • Employers that encourage vaccination and provide paid time off for vaccine and booster appointments and recovery can significantly increase 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), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation — 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.

  • Making it possible for working parents to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible helps protect children’s health and keep kids in school, which reduces workforce absenteeism and turnover. The virus forced over 7,000 schools to close for at least one day during the second week of January 2022 alone.
Should I offer workers paid time off for vaccinations and recovery?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

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.

  • Businesses with a COVID-19 Community Level that is “medium” or “high,” should consider requiring unvaccinated workers and regular visitors (not retail customers) to be routinely screened with a rapid test, at least weekly.


  • 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 CDC recommends all people wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.


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


  • 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.



  • 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.

  • OSHA acknowledges that some workers may not be able to wear a face covering due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief. See our guidance for responding to those exemption requests.

  • 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?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.

Question 6

Should I require COVID-19 testing for employees?

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

  • The 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 vaccinated and get exposed to someone with COVID-19 should get tested 5 days after exposure.

  • Workers whose vaccinations are not up to date (including those who have not received a booster shot) 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.


  • The CDC recommends that employers should not require COVID-19 testing from sick employees to qualify for sick leave. 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.


  • 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, nor is it medically appropriate for screening or diagnostics.


  • 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.

  • OSHA acknowledges that some workers may not be able to be tested due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief. See our guidance for responding to those exemption requests.
  • Employers need to consider who would cover the cost for testing, for how long,and how tests would be administered.

  • Health insurance plans must reimburse people for the cost of at-home tests beginning January 15, 2022, but employers should consider the equity impact on low-income workers of having to cover the up-front costs of testing.  

  • As of May 2022, every home in the U.S. can order 16 free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests through covidtests.gov. Those tests are completely free—no shipping costs, no need to enter a credit card number.


  • Federal law does not require insurers to cover routine workplace tests.


  • Many states have laws requiring employers to pay for mandatory medical tests or reimburse employees for any such testing. Ensure you follow the law in your state.


  • A vaccination requirement for all workers may be less of a burden on workers 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.
Should I require COVID-19 testing for employees?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

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.


  • 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 CDC recommends all people wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

  • Where possible, employers should require or provide high-quality masks such as those rated N95 or KN95. The CDC offers information for selecting the appropriate mask or respirator.  


  • Universal masking in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status provides an extra layer of protection to reduce the potential for COVID-19 transmission.


  • Fully vaccinated and boosted individuals who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 shouldwear a mask in public indoor settings for 10 days or until they receive a negative test result.


  • From a public health perspective, it’s safest to require masking for all employees who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.

  • For all companies, 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 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.


  • Leaders in at least 12 states have rejected mask mandates or passed laws banning local governments from enacting them. However, even in these states, private businesses still have the right to require masks for customers and employees.


  • OSHA acknowledges that some workers may not be able to wear a mask due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief. See our guidance for responding to those exemption requests.
  • The CDC’s new COVID-19 Community Level framework allows people to take a break from masks when local risks are “low.”  


  • 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.

  • People may choose to wear a mask at any time. Employers should emphasize that workers should not question, make assumptions about, or harass their coworkers for wearing (or not wearing) a mask.

  • Black and Hispanic workers are more likely to wear masks at work most of the time. Employers should consider their safety and security in their efforts to prioritize health equity in the workplace.


  • 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 a high-quality mask, ideally N95 or KN95-rated, that fits snugly. Learn more about how to choose a mask that fits well and offers the best protection.

  • An analysis by the Brookings Institute found that consistent masking by 70% of Americans during the Omicron surge would have been almost as effective as widespread closures of businesses and schools.
Should I require my employees to wear masks?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

Question 8

Should I restrict business travel?

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


  • The CDC recommends that domestic travel be delayed and international travel be entirely avoided until individuals are up to date on their vaccinations.

     
  • As of May 2022, the CDC recommends that anyone traveling domestically test for COVID-19 as close as possible to their trip, and no more than three days in advance. Employers should consider requiring a negative test from employees one to two days before any business travel.
  • 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.
  • Employers may want to limit non-essential business travel and/or restrict travel for unvaccinated workers. Policies that allow business travel for vaccinated and boosted workers only may be a strong nudge to encourage unvaccinated workers to get their shots.


  • For federal workers and contractors who do not attest to being fully vaccinated, official domestic travel should be limited to mission-critical trips


  • 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 restrict business travel?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

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 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.

  • The 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.


  • Leaders in at least 12 states have rejected mask mandates or passed laws banning local governments from enacting them. However, even 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 percent 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?
Decision Tool
Once you are ready, mark your decision below to review further considerations based on your choice.
Yes

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 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.
  • 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.
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