With so much news and talk about vaccinations these days, we thought it would be helpful to look at vaccine policies in the workplace. Employers have many aspects to consider when it comes to vaccines, including:

  • If vaccinations will be part of a strategy to re-open workplaces
  • Sick pay for time spent receiving the vaccine or recovering from side effects
  • Incentives for getting the vaccine

This week’s Ask Approach contains links to many articles and resources about vaccination, to help you decide what to do as an employer. Even though we are covering this topic, the workers’ comp guidance for COVID-19 in Washington state is the same: most claims for COVID-19 acquired in the workplace will be denied, except for certain cases where the allowance criteria has been met.

Requiring workplace vaccinations

Back in December, King 5 TV in Seattle interviewed two attorneys, who agreed that employers can require their employees to receive vaccinations. One of the attorneys compared it to rules that many employers have requiring seat belts to be worn while driving on the job.

Discover Magazine says a COVID-19 vaccination policy could look a lot like flu vaccination policies that some employers have had for many years. In fact, it says the first workplace to require flu vaccine shots was right here in Washington state, at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Vaccination policies must accommodate employees who have health or religious reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated. Even so, the Discover Magazine article says that 98 percent of Virginia Mason employees get their flu shot now.

It’s important to set a vaccine policy separately from COVID test policies. According to MRSC, a Washington state non-profit, employers in Washington state:

  • CAN require employees to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test
  • CANNOT require employees to have a COVID-19 antibody test
  • CAN require employees to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine, with appropriate accommodations

The MRSC also advises that any employee who cannot have the vaccine due to disability must be accommodated, such as through teleworking, if their unvaccinated status makes them a “direct threat” to other employees. MRSC recommends this Equal Employment Opportunity Commission webpage for further information.

…the first workplace to require flu vaccine shots was right here in Washington state, at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle

Incentives for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine

Some employers are choosing to give incentives. Others are providing time off to receive the shot and, if necessary, to recover from side effects.

  • Kroger (owner of Fred Meyer and QFC) is paying employees $100 on proof that they have received the vaccine. It is also offering $100 to employees who cannot be vaccinated if they take an extra workplace safety course instead.
  • SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, says that Wal-Mart has changed its emergency leave policy, offering “up to three days of paid leave for any vaccine side effects.”
  • SHRM also highlights the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT) as an employer that is requiring vaccinations before its employees can return to the office. DWT is offering to pay for any vaccinations not covered by insurance or the government.

Vaccine access and information

Just last week, the first federally-operated vaccination center in Washington opened in Yakima, aimed at the large number of agricultural employees in central Washington.

There are also four mass vaccination sites in:

  • Kennewick
  • Ridgefield
  • Spokane
  • Wenatchee

The Washington State Department of Health has a Vaccine Locator for other locations.

Vaccine Locations

Finally, if you’re looking for posters and other information to share with employees, the CDC has infographics and other resources for COVID-19 vaccinations.