February 25, 2021 by Adam Malik
Enforcing a vaccination policy on staff is fraught with challenges, a brokerage expert warned.
It’s a hot-button issue in the industry, according to the results of a recent online survey of more than 1,150 P&C insurance professionals conducted by Canadian Underwriter.
Fully 72% of readers said they planned on getting vaccinated before they returned to the office. About half (53%) said they would not feel comfortable working in the office alongside people who chose not to be vaccinated.
But when it came to talk turkey about enforcing compliance, the split for and against in Canadian Underwriter‘s survey is close to even. A little more than half (55%) of industry professionals agreed that vaccinations should be a requirement before returning to the office.
It may not be that easy, however.
A person may not want the COVID-19 vaccine for a number of reasons, such as health or religious beliefs, Gigi Acevedo-Parker, a registered nurse and Hub International’s clinical risk management practice leader, said during a recent webinar. Younger work colleagues may feel they are less likely to experience severe complications due to a COVID-19 infection, and therefore a vaccination may not be necessary. Some may feel unsure or unsafe about the vaccines to be administered, or they may not be educated about their risk.
Some might say that any mandatory vaccination program could take these circumstances into account. When people choose to opt out of a mandatory program, for example, they can be required to sign a waiver in which they acknowledge, among other things, that they may be at risk of catching the virus and they have been given the opportunity to be immunized.
But that’s where potential issues in the workplace may only begin, Acevedo-Parker warned during the Hub International webinar, Implementing an Employee Vaccine Program: Cost, Access and Communication.
That’s because the employer now has to figure out: How will the employee who declined continue to participate in the workplace?
“So, you must consider: Are you going to suspend some kind of privileges?” Acevedo-Parker said. “Will you think of moving them to other workplaces within the [company]? Would you require them to continue to wear facial coverings?”
Apart from these logistical considerations, a number of other negative aspects are associated with having a mandated vaccination program at work, she observed. One of them is the invasive nature of requiring staff to be stuck by a needle. Not everyone is comfortable with that to begin with; employees may be even more anxious about it in a workplace setting, assuming the employer is setting up the onsite vaccination clinic.
And what happens when you tell employees explicitly, or even suggest implicitly, that their jobs may be in jeopardy if they don’t immunize? That opens up another can of legal worms.
“Obviously, we have some very serious side effects for the company [if an employer says or suggests an employee’s job is in jeopardy],” Acevedo-Parker said. “Liability cases, we know, have [arisen] from other vaccination programs [that] have required employees to take the vaccine….But the risk of liability claims has not necessarily outweighed the reasons that the company has continued on with mandated programs, even with the risk of litigation.”
There’s also a risk to workplace relationships if some colleagues are vaccinated while others are not.
“Potential damage to workplace relationships is one of the things that these researchers have touched on,” she said. “Some have done some extensive research on how having a mandated program may change the whole tone of the workplace. So that must be considered.”
Some people may think: “Doesn’t everyone want the COVID-19 vaccine? Of course, everyone wants to keep each other safe, right?” That’s not necessarily the case.
“Researchers tell us that sometimes the relationship is broken forever within the workforce in some settings [over that belief],” Acevedo-Parker said.
Feature image by iStock.com/Geber86