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COVID-19 and HR: Our Experts Answer Your Questions

HR experts answer employee questions

COVID-19 has brought human resource management into sharp focus for many employers. As CDC guidelines and federal, state, and local legislation continue to evolve, many employers are turning to their PEO company or outsourced HR partner for guidance on how to proceed.

Tina Peckman, Senior Director, Human Resource Services and Christine Parker, Senior Human Resources Manager at ExtensisHR answer some of the most pressing questions we have received from employers regarding COVID-19-related issues during these changing times.

VACCINES

As nationwide vaccine efforts continue to pick up steam, employers are considering the role of vaccination in the safe reopening of physical workspaces. Here are some of the questions employers are asking.

“Can I require my employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine?”

Employers may strongly encourage employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are limitations on vaccine requirements. Per EEOC, employers can require employees to get the COVID- 19 vaccine if the employer can prove there is a “direct threat to the health and safety of others.” The requirement should be based on objective facts, tied to the employee’s job duties/description, and consistently administered. Employers should base their decision on a needs analysis.

“What is considered a ‘direct threat’?”

A ‘direct threat’ is established if a worker would pose a significant risk of substantial harm to the health and safety of others and the risk cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable workplace accommodations. Employers must be able to prove the likelihood of potential harm will occur. If employees can perform job duties remotely without a potential spread, vaccination may not be mandated.

“Are there exemptions to employer-mandated vaccines?”

Employees may be exempt under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for a covered disability or medical circumstance (allergies or adverse reactions to previous vaccinations) or based upon held religious beliefs, practice, or observances. Written documentation should be provided.

“If one of my employees requests an exemption, what process should our company follow?”

Upon exemption request, the employer should go through the ADA interactive process with the employee.

“Can an employee request an exemption without a medical or religious exemption? For example, the employee does not want or feel comfortable getting the vaccine.”

Yes. Therefore, the employer would need to demonstrate the employee needs the vaccine due to a direct threat. If the employer cannot prove a direct threat, they may not be able to enforce a mandatory vaccine.

“If my employees receive the vaccine, can I request medical documentation?”

Yes, employers may request a copy of the employee’s vaccine documentation. However, any medical documentation provided should be safeguarded and kept separate from the employee’s personnel file.

“If an employee requests accommodation and has currently been working at our company location, can I tell the employee they can no longer come into the workplace since they did not receive a vaccine?”

No. Since the employee has been working safely thus far, employers cannot tell an employee they can no longer come to the workplace.

“Can our company mandate employees to get vaccines prior to availability?”

No, employers cannot require a vaccine if employees do not have access due to availability limitations and/or the vaccine is not available to their demographic (i.e. age group, workgroup, etc.) yet.

COVID-19 AND TRAVEL POLICIES

As travel restrictions are eased, employees are beginning to travel more, both for business and pleasure. Employers must be aware of the state and federal guidelines regarding inquiry into travel upon an employee’s return home.

“Can I inquire about my employee’s personal travel plans?”

Employers may inquire about an employee’s personal travel plans, provided the inquiry is consistent with business necessity and applied equally across all employees. We recommend employers update their company travel policy to outline clear processes for out-of-state travel.

“Should our company update our PTO policy regarding process and quarantine guidelines?”

Employers should institute clear travel policies and procedures incorporating CDC and applicable federal, state, and local guidelines and/or orders. Employers should remind employees of CDC recommendations regarding travel and any mandatory state or local self-isolation or quarantine periods post-travel. 

“Can our company require an employee to self-quarantine or isolate after personal travel?”

If mandated by applicable law, you may require employees to self-quarantine or isolate. If available, employees who have traveled should work remotely for the recommended quarantine/isolation time required by CDC or state or local law. If remote work is not available, employers should review applicable law to determine if pay is available for self-quarantine or isolation. There may be some risk in requiring employees to self-quarantine or isolate without pay. 

“After an employee’s personal travel, can we require them to provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to work?”


Possibly. Depending on EEOC or CDC guidance, you may require job-related medical testing consistent with business necessity.

Change Is Constant

Adapting to employee needs and requests while maintaining HR compliance will continue to be a challenge as policies and best practices shift due to COVID-19. Work with your PEO company, legal counsel, or other HR advisor to update your policies and implement a solid plan of action. However, you will likely need to revisit and tailor your plans regularly as the realities of the workplace evolve.

Are your workplace policies compliant and up to date? Our HR experts are here to help.

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