President Calls for Paid Time Off for Boosters in New COVID-19 Plan

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On Dec. 2, President Joe Biden announced his action plan to battle COVID-19 this winter and called on private-sector employers to follow the federal government's lead by providing paid time off for workers to get vaccines and booster shots.

The administration is also urging employers to offer paid time off for employees to help family members getting their first or second dose of the vaccine or a booster shot.

The president said workers shouldn't have to choose between getting a paycheck and getting additional protection from the coronavirus.

Addressing the new omicron COVID-19 variant, Biden reiterated his prior statement that the variant is "cause for concern" but "not panic." He said his plan doesn't include shutdowns or any new or expanded vaccination directives.

Rather, the administration wants to increase access to vaccinations, boosters and testing. "The best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot when eligible," Biden said. "We don't yet believe that additional measures will be needed," he noted, but he said the administration is working with pharmaceutical companies to quickly and safely develop contingency plans for additional vaccines and boosters, if needed.

Biden said the plan should "unite the nation in a common purpose" to protect each other and support economic recovery. 

Workers Report Lack of Paid Time Off

According to the White House, about 33 percent of workers have reported that their employer is not providing paid time off to get vaccinated, and 35 percent of parents said they are concerned about having to take time off to get their children vaccinated or care for them if they have side effects. "Over the course of our pandemic response, these concerns have been even more pressing in our underserved communities," the White House said.

Biden announced that federal employees will receive paid time off to get booster shots, and he wants private-sector employers to offer similar benefits.

5 Key Actions

The administration's plan to combat COVID-19 this winter includes the following actions:

  • Expanding the nationwide booster campaign by providing more outreach and ensuring that more appointments are available at additional locations for people to get the extra vaccine dose.
  • Launching new family vaccination clinics to make it easier for whole families to get vaccinated at one time.
  • Providing better access to free at-home tests, which will be covered by private insurance plans and available for people without insurance at more community health centers and other sites.  
  • Providing more rapid response teams to assist medical staff in places with rising COVID-19 cases and overburdened and understaffed hospitals.
  • Accelerating global efforts to help vaccinate people in other countries and strengthening international travel rules for people arriving in the U.S. Notably, travelers arriving in the U.S. will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test that was administered within one day of departure to the country.

Additionally, the Transportation Security Administration will extend through March 18 its requirement that travelers wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and in airports and train stations.

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Omicron Variant and the Workplace

Governments around the world are just learning about the impact of omicron, which has been labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization. "We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated.

What should employers do as they wait for more information about the new variant? The CDC continues to recommend vaccination for everyone who is eligible. The agency also says people age 18 and older should get booster doses, and that everyone should keep following other safety protocols that help curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

"We know what it takes to prevent the spread of COVID-19," the CDC said, noting that people should "follow prevention strategies, such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from others."

Should the Holiday Party Be Canceled?

In light of the omicron variant, employers have to make difficult decisions about whether to host gatherings that employees enjoyed prior to the pandemic, such as holiday parties, team-building events and other in-person activities.

"These types of decisions are difficult and very specific to each organization and its operational needs and culture," observed Jim Paul, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in St. Louis. 

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, said companies are beginning to cancel their plans for holiday parties. "I don't know a CEO who hasn't really thought about, 'Do I really want to convene it?' only to get a surprise that ... [omicron] is in the state and large gatherings will potentially be superspreader events."

Mini Kapoor, an attorney with Haynes Boone in Houston, noted that such decisions may be based on the employer's specific work environment. "It might be prudent to arrange in-person meetings where physical distancing is possible," she said, but noted that large, in-person gatherings where physical distancing is not feasible should be avoided.

"For now, it's best to ensure that an appropriate foundational safety plan is in place and continue to monitor news and guidance from trusted sources," said Kevin Troutman, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Houston.

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