Vaccine Webinar: How Vaccines and Federal Guidelines Impact Return to Office Plans

May 14, 2021

HR Policy’s latest vaccine webinar explored what employers are thinking on COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the guidance employers should consider when making decisions about reopening their workplaces.

Updated CDC guidance relaxes mask and social distancing mandates for vaccinated individuals.  The guidance states: 

  • Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

  • Fully vaccinated people can refrain from testing following a known exposure unless they are residents or employees of a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter.

Over 70% of HR Policy members are not mandating vaccination, although some have decided, or are considering, to only allow vaccinated employees back onsite.  Members are continuing to follow CDC and local guidance on masking and social distancing and are maintaining the same policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. 

This guidance may complicate plans for reopening office locations as fully vaccinated employees may not want to adhere to masking policies any longer.  The Association met with OSHA this week to urge flexibility for employers ahead of the release of an updated Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). We are also waiting for updated EEOC guidance on vaccine incentives. 

Continue to educate on the effectiveness of vaccines:  A recent Cleveland Clinic study found that of the COVID-19 patients they saw from January to April 2021, 99.7% of the infections occurred in those who are unvaccinated.  Karl Niemann, VP HR Organizational Health, The Kroger Company, stated the company is focused on stressing the efficacy of the vaccines to its employees along with providing a financial incentive.  Leadership is also continuing to engage with employees through internal communications as well as through social media campaigns focused on promoting vaccination.  

Create return to work plans that are flexible and prioritize employee safety:  Dave Pendleton, SVP Global Total Rewards & Performance, Mondelez International, Inc., described their return to office strategy which includes evaluating community case rates to determine when certain locations can return.  Doing so allows them to focus on the safety of employees and allows for additional flexibility in case certain locations need to close again.  Randy Patterson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Wilsonart, said they have determined that their "in-office" days for teams will be based on the days when the teams require more collaboration.

Outlook:  Employers should continue to weigh federal and local guidance when developing and implementing return to office protocols.  While the recent CDC guidance is a welcome step towards returning to worksites, the lack of updated OSHA and EEOC guidance continues to complicate the process.  The American Health Policy Institute and the Association continue to urge Congress and federal agencies to provide this needed guidance.