What businesses need to know about creating a company vaccine policy

vaccine-status vaccine mandates

A vaccine being administrated. Source: Unsplash/CDC.

From offering paid vaccination leave to suggesting vaccination rollouts for their staff, Australian businesses are to be commended for their forward-thinking when it comes to helping with the vaccine rollout, which will ultimately end the business interruptions that come with COVID-19. 

But while a vaccination rollout policy is a great idea in theory, what can ensue is a can of worms that, for a lot of companies, might not be worth opening.

To vax or not to vax

There are massive privacy concerns involved in implementing a vaccination policy for staff — particularly where workers are deemed ‘non-essential’. Workers are entitled to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated, and some won’t want to disclose their reasoning for wanting the jab or not.

Beyond simply wanting to be vaccinated or not, employees have a life outside of work which often includes health issues, family considerations and other factors — none of which need to be discussed in a professional setting if they don’t directly impact the person’s work. Be wary of asking staff to disclose too much personal information that doesn’t relate to their jobs. Asking for too much information about an employee’s personal situation can be detrimental to their trust in the company in the long term.

The office: A one-stop vax shop?

Remember pre-pandemic times, when organisations hired a nurse for the day to administer the flu shot to anyone who opted in? While this is still a very welcome initiative, it has taken a backseat in the past two years as employees moved to working from home, and all our focus turned to COVID-19 instead of the regular flu. 

With the flu such an accepted part of daily life, so too is the flu shot. People either get it or don’t get it, and it’s personal preference. COVID-19 is the polar opposite: not at all an accepted part of daily life, with the vaccine being the ticket to life without lockdowns and restrictions. Therefore, there’s one very key difference between offering the flu shot to employees on-premises, and offering the COVID-19 vaccine to employees on-premises. Again, it’s privacy. 

The consideration here is that it’s important an employee’s vaccine status is not known to other employees. At such a touchy time when people feel so strongly about the vaccine, and all the conflicting advice that currently surrounds getting the vaccine, employees shouldn’t be opened up to potential judgement or debate about the vaccine in their workplace. Water cooler vaccination chatter about who has opted in to vaccination and who hasn’t can open a company up to bullying claims — something many simply cannot afford at this time.

Mandating the vaccine for a return to the office

For companies with workers who aren’t deemed to be front-liners, mandating vaccinations is more dangerous than it seems from a HR perspective. Legal considerations aside, it’s worth looking at your organisation’s code of ethics to make sure you’re meeting your employees’ expectations before even considering a vaccine policy, much less rolling one out for a return to the office or larger capacity in-person meets. 

Being mindful of mental health

Mental health is also a key challenge for businesses in the face of repeated lockdowns. Especially now, with over 12 million people currently in lockdown, leaders should be focusing their energies on supporting their teams to get through yet another tough time — not communicating about vaccine policies and procedures we can’t even implement yet. The conversation should be on educating and supporting workforces, leaving the vaccine chatter to a time where employees will be less mentally fatigued.

The bottom line

Put your people first. The only way your company can execute a successful vaccination policy is in close consultation with your HR leaders and legal departments, and by asking your employees what it is that they actually want when it comes to vaccinations. So talk to your cohort, every single one of them. Listen, and respond accordingly.


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