Parking sign for vaccine clinic

Just Mandate Already!

Folks, it seems pretty popular to mandate vaccination or require those who refuse to get vaccinated to get tested regularly.  The Biden Administration allows this for federal workers. [NOTE: Minutes after I posted this, the Biden Administration announced it will no longer offer a testing option for federal employees. Now, all federal employees must be vaccinated.]  Minnesota and Minneapolis allow this too.  But, this get-vaxxed-or-get-tested bargain is awful for HR professionals. 

Let me count the ways:

  1. Potentially huge cost.  First, you must pay for employee to go get tested EACH time the employee gets tested.  If sending to a free testing facility, that could be hours of time paying an employee to wait in line and time spent traveling to the site.  Second, if the employee isn’t going to a free testing facility, the employer has to pay for the tests.  If an employee visits clients and a client specifies what test results (Antigen or PCR), you may have to spend a lot for tests.
  2. Huge administrative burden.  HR is going to have to keep track of who is testing, their test results, and send reminders to get tested.  Who is testing and the results are medical information protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, so this information can’t be handled by just anyone.  It also has to be secured and shared with only those individuals who need to know.
  3. Now HR is the bad guy.  Now, I know we’re used to being the bad guy, but HR is going to end up being the person who nags the vaccine-resistant employee to get their test.  If they miss a test, we have to nag and suspend the employee until they get their test.  This makes us a target for the already angry, vaccine-resistant employee. (Come on, you know they’re an angry bunch.)

If it’s expensive, somewhat challenging to track, and we’re the bad guy, why not just mandate the vaccine in the first place?  Wouldn’t that be easier and faster given the vaccine is available and free almost everywhere and at least one vaccine – Pfizer-BioNTech has full FDA approval?  Even the EEOC allows vaccine mandates!  See Section K.

Yes, you need to provide reasonable accommodation for religion and disabilities. As an employer, you get to ask for information to support the reasonable accommodation.

For religion, ask for a letter from the employee’s faith leader outlining a need for a mandate exemption.  Note, nearly every major religion is encouraging members to get vaccinated.   The Abrahamic religions support vaccines: the leaders of the Christian (Catholics, Methodists,  Baptists, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Episcopalians, Pentecostals), Jewish, Muslim and Bahá’í faiths have all encouraged members to get vaccinated. The four branches of Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddism also encourage vaccination.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are not opposed to vaccination. If you get a letter from an employee that contradicts these religious directions, ask the employee about it.

For disability, ask for a letter from the employee’s healthcare provider.  (We’ve done this for decades, right?)

If a reasonable accommodation is warranted, then you’ve got options.  You could put those who need an accommodation out on leave like United Airlines did because then, the employee is not posing a risk to their colleagues or customers.  Or you could give the employee the option to test twice weekly and go through the rigmarole described above.  Or the employee could work from home if that’s feasible for the position.  This should greatly reduce the administrative and cost burdens and provide a safer work environment for your staff. Lastly, I get that you’re worried that employees might quit.  But do you really want people who are not concerned with protecting their colleagues and their families working for you?  That’s what this comes down to.  With Pfizer-BioNTech having full FDA approval, there is no nonselfish reason to avoid vaccination.  We’re in this together, and the only way out is vaccination.  The experts tell us so.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Begging for Leadership

Story time! When I walked into U.S. Embassy Lusaka, Zambia, I walked into an employee benefit nightmare.  Our locally engage staff (nearly all Zambians) were told one thing about their retirement benefits, but then received something much different and much lower.  While my manager had been working on this for a bit, it was squarely my problem to deal with and I was immediately taken as the enemy by much of the staff.  I had to manage up with all my might and advocate for employees while I could not tell them how hard I was trying.  I towed the company line of “this is what the benefit is until we can get it changed.”  Once it got changed and benefits massively increased, management got the glory.

This is what HR does or at least should do every day.  We work hard on behalf of employees while sharing management’s words.  It’s a thankless job often with zero glory, but when employees reap the benefit of our hard work, a swelling sense of pride comes over us.  When it doesn’t, everyone suffers.

For me, this is why it is critical to have an industry association that gets how tough it is for us and is willing to take on the burden rather than following business organizations like sheeple. An association that both represents us to the world, but also advocates to help us make life a little easier for the employees we serve. Sometimes taking hard positions even if it could cost our employers more money or take away some of the shortcuts we’ve been used to for so long.

For the past three years, I’ve watched the Society for Human Resources Management fail HR, saddling up to an Administration desperate to take rights away from our LGBTQ community, strip our workers of their ability to work, and ignore or “all lives matter” our Black and Brown colleagues. I’ve voiced my concerns to SHRM directly at Special Expertise Day before SHRM National 2019, I’ve spoken with representatives, I’ve asked folks to contact their representatives, I’ve tweeting my concerns repeatedly, I’ve spoken to Board Members. I believe I’ve done everything in my power to make change inside the organization. So, it’s time to go outside of it.

I prepared a Change.org petition asking for the bare minimum from SHRM:

  1. SHRM says “Black Lives Matter.”  SHRM can hold all the diversity summits, symposiums, webinars it likes, but until it recognizes that Black lives actually matter, all of that work means little. 
  2. SHRM advocates for the LGBTQ community.  SHRM did not file an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to find that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under Title VII.  SHRM has not expressed even a whiff of concern as this Administration as advocated that business should be fire or not serve our LGBTQ friends and colleagues.  SHRM said nothing as the Administration issued a final rule stripping our friends and colleagues of health benefits.  Instead, SHRM’s president enjoyed watching the State of the Union with Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina – a man adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage.

This petition does not ask for an ouster in leadership, it simply asks for some leadership. For our Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, LGBTQ friends and colleagues, silence is violence. We should not be silent anymore. After all, as a very good friend once said, “You shouldn’t be in Human Resources if you don’t believe in human rights.”

If you would like to join the hundreds of folks who already have, please click here.  Thank you.