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September 21, 2021

Transitioning Employees Back into the Office

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some remote workers are secretly juggling two full-time jobs. It’s not clear how common this is. According to SHRM, one survey found that 94% of employers said productivity was the same or higher as it had been before the pandemic forced employees to work remotely. Nevertheless, many managers want their workers back in the office.

Accomplishing a return to the office may be challenging, however, and not just because many workers are unhappy with the idea. The pandemic is still a threat, and the Delta variant is making many people – including some fully vaccinated individuals – sick. Employers will need to manage the transition back to the office carefully.

Requiring Masks

Due to the high transmission rate of the Delta variant, many people are back to wearing masks. Employers may need to require workers to wear masks, even if those workers have been vaccinated.

The CDC has said, “Everyone who is able, including fully vaccinated people, should wear masks in public indoor places in areas of substantial or high transmission.”

Some states have also implemented new mask orders. In Washington, everyone over five years of age is required to wear a mask in public indoor settings. However, fully vaccinated workers who work alone or in an area not accessible to the public do not have to wear masks. In California, masks are currently not required for fully vaccinated employees indoors, but they are recommended, and employers must document the employee’s vaccination status. Masks are required in some settings, included schools, healthcare settings, childcare settings, and public transit.

Rules and recommendations for masks may change at any time. Employers should keep an eye on the CDC, OSHA, and their state agencies.

Requiring the Vaccine

Although some fully vaccinated people are coming down with COVID, especially the Delta variant, the vaccine is still seen as the best way to prevent both infection and severe illness.

Given this, many employers want their workers to get vaccinated, and some have even required vaccination. The EEOC states that “The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations.”

However, vaccine mandates have led to pushback – and lawsuits – from some employees. According to National Law Review, some lawsuits have argued that employers should not be able to mandate a vaccine that has only received Emergency Use Authorization. However, these lawsuits have been unsuccessful so far. Additionally, the Pfizer vaccine has now received full FDA approval. NPR says this could result in more vaccine mandates.

Other Vaccine Strategies

Even if employers don’t have to worry about lawsuits over vaccine mandates, they may still worry about the impact on morale and turnover rates. Some employers are deciding to encourage, rather than require, vaccination.

Early on, this was often done with incentives. Now, many employers are going for the stick instead of the carrot. According to SHRM, Delta Air Lines is charging unvaccinated workers a monthly $200 health insurance premium surcharge. Other employers are considering doing the same, but benefits experts disagree about whether the surcharge is acceptable. The issue may eventually be settled in court.

Keeping Workers Safe

As employers transition workers back to the office, the focus should be on safety. Refer to current guidance from the CDC and local government agencies on the best safety practices, which may include the use of masks and other PPE, frequent cleaning, and social distancing.

It will also be important to listen to your workers. Some employees may be worried about COVID. Others may be anxious about returning to the office or struggling with childcare issues. The situation is still changing, and flexibility is key.

If you need business insurance or risk management guidance, contact the team at Heffernan Insurance Brokers.

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