The end of the rocky year of 2020 brought hopeful news as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 were introduced, showing effectiveness of 90% and higher. Businesspeople around the world have been able to look at 2021 with some real hope for an end to the disruption that the global pandemic has caused.
But will the new normal look anything like the normal of 2019? The answer to that question won’t reveal itself all at once, with the vaccine rollout expected to take many months and key questions still unanswered. Take a look at some of the issues about vaccination and changes to the workplace that will come to the forefront in 2021.
The Vaccine Dilemma: Should You Require Employees to Be Vaccinated?
Vaccination against COVID-19 is the single most important step in returning to some variety of normal. As infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has pointed out, once about 75% of the country is vaccinated, social distancing and mask requirements can be safely lifted — and not until then.
Issues still remain about how to reach that 75% compliance level, however. Some people are reluctant to be vaccinated at all, while others want to wait to see how the rollout of the new vaccines goes before making a commitment. This reluctance slows the ability of the nation to get back to business and keeps customers (and employees) home.
Businesses are well-positioned to encourage the spread of vaccinations. Business leaders can, in fact, require vaccination as a condition of employment.
Legally, businesses that take this stance are on firm footing. In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. Jacobson that the government may indeed require vaccination (the disease in question at the time was smallpox). Over a century later, that ruling still holds. It’s the reason why school districts can require vaccination of students and employees and why many hospitals also require vaccinations of various sorts.
There’s a real plus for businesses that do require vaccination. Employees are more likely to feel comfortable and safe coming to work if they know everyone in their workplace has been vaccinated. That sense of safety even translates to a competitive advantage for many businesses. Think how relieved you’d feel getting into an Uber or Lyft if you knew the driver had been vaccinated.
Of course, in all cases, medical and religious exemptions for the COVID-19 will continue to exist, as they do for existing vaccines. However, the people claiming those exemptions shouldn’t hinder reaching the 75% immunity level needed for normal to return.
Not all business owners feel comfortable mandating a vaccine, however. Some are concerned about the public relations issues that could arise, while others fret about the potential for legal liability. In some cases, business associations plan to encourage mandatory vaccines as a group, providing PR cover for individual companies. Other business owners want to encourage or recommend vaccination to their employees, but feel that requiring vaccination might harm their culture of trust.
A couple of other options exist. Some businesses plan to offer bonuses to employees to get vaccinated. Others, such as Target, will offer vaccination at the workplace to remove any barriers to vaccination. In the same vein, Ford Motor Company has already ordered freezers to facilitate vaccine storage for workplace vaccination. In addition, some restaurant chains plan to pay for their employees’ vaccinations, seeing this as a step toward encouraging customers to feel safe returning.
Changes to the Way We Work
The post-COVID new normal is likely to look a little different than the old normal, and it’s likely to affect different industries in varying ways. Live events, including concerts, theater, and sports, were the most grievously affected by the pandemic, and they’ll be the last to recover. The travel and hospitality sectors will also feel the effects of COVID for many more months as well. However, once vaccination has fully taken effect, it’s probable that these sectors will be able to rebound.
The future for retail may look a bit different than the past. While customers had been turning to online shopping for some years, 2020 saw an explosive growth in e-commerce. Businesses that haven’t already created e-commerce divisions may already be too late to capture shoppers who will continue to take advantage of the ease of shopping from their sofas.
In addition, employees in office-based industries have, in many cases, come to love the ease of remote working, along with the benefits of giving up their two-hour commutes and, often, working on a more flexible schedule. Businesses have also begun to question the finances involved in supporting expensive office spaces. Companies may want to explore options for some continued remote work, since this cultural shift may prove to be permanent.
Businesses may also find themselves invigorated as they realize how quickly innovation can occur. The speed of the pivot when lockdowns began was remarkable, accomplishing in a matter of weeks what might have taken years of committee meetings and feasibility studies. Smart companies will take advantage of 2021 to create their own new normal intentionally, rather than sticking with what they’ve always done.
COVID-19 Laws in 2021
Of course, COVID-19 had some legal repercussions as well, with laws taking effect in 2021 that mandate employer response to the pandemic in several ways.
Key among these new regulations are laws regarding workers’ comp for employees who contract COVID-19. In some industries, COVID-19 may be considered an occupational injury subject to workers’ compensation requirements and benefits.
The quarantines associated with COVID-19 have also resulted in the state of California establishing return-to-work criteria for employees with positive COVID-19 tests. Employers should be aware of the need to keep those employees away from the workplace for 10 post-symptomatic days, as well of the existence of some more stringent local laws. The return-to-work criteria will remain in place until at least May 2021.
Finally, California employers must develop written COVID-19 prevention programs in 2021. These require communications with employees regarding COVID-19 exposure, return-to-work criteria, and face covering and social distancing rules in the workplace.
By addressing employee and customer concerns about COVID-19 exposure, and by encouraging (or even requiring) vaccination, employers can go a long way to speeding up the return to normal that should help turn 2021 into a positive year for business.
At Marquee Staffing, we’re ready at all times to support employers, helping you stay up-to-date on regulations and paving the way toward the new normal. Contact us to find out how we can help you grow your organization in 2021.