How Travel and Procurement Managers Approach the Vaccination of Covid-19 before Returning to Travel

Many companies are considering not only the legalities, but safety aspects, of requiring their employees to take the Covid-19 vaccine prior to either returning to the office locations, or for approving business travel. This article approaches the topic, not with a recommendation, but with facts for your consideration.

Yes. Legally, the basis goes back to the time in the early 1900s of Small Pox, Polio and Cholera. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of individual states enforcing compulsory vaccine laws. One hundred years later, the question at hand is if the law remains obligatory or simply persuasive.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) confirms the companies’ right to require the Covid-19 vaccine, taking the stance of safety for all of their employees. It is their position that “an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.”

As with all mandates, there are exemptions and in the matter of the Covid-19 vaccine could include employees with disabilities and those objecting on religious grounds, even if the employer’s business is deemed essential.

While the position seems clear, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed over 950 Human Resources professionals and found 55 percent were unsure if their organizations would require the mandate, with 68% responding they plan to “encourage” vaccinations, and 2 out of 5 responding their firms definitely would not insist on vaccination as a condition for returning.

When speaking with business travelers, many are hopeful that the return to travel will happen sooner than their respective companies are likely to approve. As of December 2020, 81 percent of travelers expect to be traveling regularly by the end of 2021 with most preferring to travel without restriction.

A separate SHRM survey advised only one-third of business travelers are expressing hesitancy towards taking the vaccine, and 36 percent stated they “do not wish to take and share the results of Covid-19 tests in order to resume traveling without restrictions.”

As the vaccines become available to a broader group during the winter and spring, employers are considering how they can encourage employees to get vaccinated. According to the National Law Review, it is important for the employers to explore appropriate incentives each believes will be most effective based upon their company culture, while keeping in mind several issues that could result based upon employee interpretation.

The amount of the incentive per employee should be set to pique their interest, while being cognizant that some employees may interpret incentives as conveying the vaccination is risky, or not voluntary. Messaging should be clear as the incentive is purely voluntary and being offered to support the adoption of the vaccine and resulting safety of their employees.

  • Wellness Incentives: Financial incentives are becoming much more prevalent, offered by hospitals as well as both privately and publicly held companies.
  • The EEOC as of January 20, 2021, has not determined whether a vaccination incentive program will be considered a wellness program. Companies are urged to review their incentive policy in relation to the Americans with Disability Act regulations, as well as obligations under Title VII relating to employees who decline the vaccine due to a sincerely held religious belief. It could be argued the incentive will still be expected by those employees that fall into either of the exemptions.

Communication and Information Availability: Because employers want to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases among their employees, but may hesitate towards a financial incentive due to challenges with administrating the processes, a communication plan could be adopted.

  • Communication Program: Encourage employees to follow the CDC recommendations regarding vaccination, provide factual information and answer frequently asked questions about the vaccines to assist the employee in making his/her decision.
  • Logistic Information: Assist your employees with logistical information as to where and how to register for a vaccine. This should be managed with regional locations if your team is virtual and works beyond a single geographic location. Include state and local government links to assist in their ease of registration.
  • Approved Time Off: Make it easy for your employees to get vaccinated, by offering approved time off (paid or unpaid). This could take up to a day in areas that do not require registration, akin to a floating holiday, or simply be a minimal 1-2 hour period away from the office.
Returning to business travel decisions will need to take into consideration the balance of the speed of vaccine distribution, with the understanding that negative test results will likely be the way forward for the next 3-6 months. Travelers and Companies will continue to weigh the importance and purpose of the business trip, with the practicality and ease of obtaining negative testing verification.
Travel Incorporated has provided a Covid Hub which includes significant information for you and your traveler’s education and information. This includes helpful links to data, testing and reentry requirements, as well as practical tools to support your revised policies and Duty of Care program.  

 

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