Can I ask my employer to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations? Ask HR
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
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Question: I work in a warehouse where COVID-19 vaccination is recommended, but not required. Several of my co-workers are not vaccinated. My company has taken measures to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on workplace safety. However, I work in fairly close proximity to others, so 6-foot spacing isn't always observed. Can I request my employer mandate vaccination, demand hazard pay, or additional coverage if I contract coronavirus? – Robert
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: The pandemic has drastically changed how we live and how companies do business. Your concerns are shared by many people in the workplace. Let’s first look at some considerations you will want to keep in mind before requesting your employer take action.
Virtually every employer is faced with the potential spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, but hazard pay is usually something offered only to first responders and health care workers.
While other industries have not embraced this practice, they have put in place measures to help minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. Some of these practices include screening for symptoms or exposure, regularly cleaning common areas, sanitation stations placed throughout the worksite, signage reminding staff how to prevent the spread of germs, social distancing, limited seating in meeting and break rooms and walkways marked as one-way to reduce face-to-face traffic.
Now let’s talk about your desire to have your employer mandate vaccines. Several months ago, almost no company was prepared to mandate vaccinations as a term and condition of employment, especially since the vaccines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration via emergency use authorization. The tide has turned recently, though, as we face the fourth COVID-19 wave and the delta variant, many businesses have or are considering vaccine mandates. From the White House to Wall Street, employers are strongly encouraging and even willing to mandate vaccinations. And with the recent full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine – and the others likely to follow – there is an even stronger case for vaccine mandates.
I would encourage you to share your concerns and recommendations with your HR Department as they are very much listening to their employees to better understand how much support they will have from people like you.
Certainly, if you are concerned with sharing a workspace with unvaccinated co-workers, there are a few steps you can take to help protect yourself:
• Get vaccinated.
• Wear a mask and/or a face shield at work.
• Whenever possible, maintain a safe distance from co-workers.
• Stay home if you’re not feeling well.
At this point, if you still have concerns about workplace safety, speak with your supervisor or Human Resources. Ask for guidance on how best to safely perform your job and remain diligent in practicing good habits in and outside of work.
Your combined efforts can go a long way towards maintaining the safe work environment everyone deserves. You can also ask your Human Resources department about their paid leave policy or other benefits that may be available if you are impacted by COVID-19.
Q: I accepted a promotion, but the new position is very stressful and requires long hours. I was led to believe I would not be working the night shift but even that is all about to change. All I can think about is getting demoted and going back to my old job. Should I speak with my manager or HR? – Damon
Taylor: It is disheartening that your promotion hasn’t turned out as you expected. Starting a new position can always present a new set of challenges. As you seek to improve your work situation, it is important to be open to your options and think them through clearly.
Before going to your Human Resources Department, I would start by having an open and honest conversation with your manager. Be ready to share specific examples of the sources of stress in your work. Also, clarify with your manager, if working the night shift will be an ongoing responsibility at your new position. Perhaps this is just a temporary shift change due to business demands.
Instead of immediately asking for a demotion and going back to your previous position, ask for guidance and further perspective from your manager. There is always a significant learning curve when starting a new position. Your manager may have some useful insight or tools that can help alleviate some of the stress.
After your initial meeting with your manager, take some time to apply the guidance you received before throwing in the towel. If you continue to find the work too stressful and not aligned with your interests or desired work schedule, then circle back to your manager.
At that point, ask if your previous position is still available and moving back into the position is an option. If the position is unavailable or your manager is not open to putting you back into that position, then you should explore with the HR professional any vacant roles for which you’d be qualified.
However, it’s also important to understand that your employer isn’t obligated to offer you your old job back or place you in a different position within the organization. You may need to apply internally for other positions and go through the interview process. If your old position is no longer available and there aren’t any current positions available that meet your interests, you should ask your employer to consider offering you some type of transition or severance pay to help you land on your feet. While they aren’t obligated to help you, employers are increasingly willing to help out if you’ve been a good employee over the years.
I understand this is not an easy situation but don’t rush your decision. Instead, take time to carefully weigh your options. Continue to have ongoing discussions with your manager and allow yourself time to adjust to your new position before deciding your next step. Best of luck to you!