What COVID-19 Vaccines Mean for the Workplace
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of work and life. With promising new vaccines becoming available to the general public, many companies are fielding questions from employees about a return to normal in the workplace. While the vaccines signal an eagerly awaited milestone, pandemic safety protocols will still be necessary in the coming months.
Here are some considerations for employers, including potential workers compensation implications, as we enter this next phase in the pandemic.
Keep Pandemic Protocols in Place
“The vaccines have given us hope, but it is important to underscore that they are just one tool in our fight against COVID-19 and we can’t let our guard down,” said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Travelers Chief Medical Director, who cautions that vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus to others. With up to 59% of COVID-19 cases transmitted by infected people who are not showing symptoms,1 the potential remains for the virus to spread within a workplace even after vaccinations begin.
“Universal mask use and social distancing are effective preventive measures,” Iglesias said. Increasing use of masks from 76% to 95% would have an even more dramatic impact on preventing COVID-related deaths than a rapid vaccine rollout, according to IHME projections.2 As other variants of COVID-19 are detected, both a rapid vaccine rollout along with continued respiratory hygiene, social distancing, reduced travel and other safety measures are important to slow the spread of the virus.
Continue Clear Employee Communications
Many employees who turned to employers as a source of reliable information about the pandemic now have questions about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and potential side effects. Employers can continue to provide clear and trusted resources, such as pointing employees to vaccine information available through the Centers for Disease Control, which discusses vaccine safety, supply and side effects.
“There’s no topic that has garnered more interest,” Iglesias said. “There’s also a lot of misinformation out there.” Common misconceptions, particularly those repeated in social media and other sources, could deter some employees and their families from agreeing to be vaccinated.
Other individuals may be reluctant to receive the vaccination due to the speed at which it was developed. The completion of longer-term clinical studies, including into the vaccine’s effectiveness within different groups, may encourage additional individuals to get the vaccine. “We need to be sensitive to the reasons people may have for delaying or even avoiding the vaccine,” Iglesias said. “Education, experience, and a compassionate attitude will help in this respect.”
Understand the Workers Compensation Considerations
As the vaccines become more widely available, employers also face new questions about their vaccine policies. The ability to mandate varies by state and is an employment law matter.
The vaccine also poses some workers compensation considerations, according to Rich Ives, Vice President, Workers Compensation Claim at Constitution State Services. “What if someone claims a vaccine injury after a mandate?” Ives said. Employers who mandate vaccinations arguably may find themselves liable if their employees have an adverse reaction. “The more incentive or encouragement an employer provides, the greater the risk a lawyer may make the case that an employee’s adverse reaction should be deemed a compensable claim,” Ives said.
In workplaces where the COVID vaccine is not mandatory, employers need to strike a balance between providing facts about the vaccine while not pressuring employees to receive it. Even mandating the vaccine likely would not lead to universal vaccinations, Ives notes, given the potential exemptions available to employees due to religious beliefs or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “The percentage of acceptance across certain populations is going to vary widely,” Ives said. “Vaccination is not likely to happen all at once.” Social distancing and other safety measures will continue to be critical during this time.
Expect a Potential Increase in Injuries as Remote Workers Return
As employees return to the workplace after months of working remotely, employers can also anticipate a potential increase in workers compensation claims, especially among newer workers who may have started their employment during the pandemic.
Providing ongoing training and in-person orientations for new hires and for employees who may be returning after a long hiatus from the workplace can help prevent injuries. Some employees may be returning after having lost loved ones due to the pandemic, may be suffering from heightened anxiety as a result of months of social distancing, or may have deferred necessary health care during quarantine.
“There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the virus,” Ives said. “We know leadership can make a significant difference by investing time to connect and engage with employees, making sure they receive necessary support and resources, as the effects of the pandemic linger and as they adjust back into the workplace.”
Working with a Third-Party Administrator
At Constitution State Services, our workers compensation Claim professionals are dedicated to providing your employees with the care and resources they need to return to work as soon as medically appropriate. Contact CSS to learn more about how we can help you anticipate claim risks and guide you through a process to mitigate them.
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