Although there are no federally mandated vaccine-or-testing regulations for employees in any industry other than health care, employers still need to comply with state and local rules aimed at protecting their workers from COVID-19. But rather than tracking vaccination status, tests and other precautions internally, many employers are choosing to outsource those efforts to vendors that have emerged to take the onus off of HR.
For example, Ampirical, a 301-employee construction engineering firm in Covington, La., has enlisted the support of Safe Site Check In to manage all COVID-19 procedures, including contact tracing for employees who test positive. Upon arrival at Ampirical's office, employees and visitors scan a QR code with their smartphone or tablet, then answer six questions and agree to adhere to COVID-19 protocols while they're onsite, including all construction sites, said the company's health, safety and environmental manager Rod Courtney.
"This virtually eliminates the possibility of someone who is or could potentially be infected with COVID-19 entering our offices or our construction sites," Courtney said. Additionally, Safe Site Check In provides employee vaccine tracking. Employees log in to a page, answer the question, "Are you currently vaccinated/boosted?" and, if they say yes, are required to submit a photo of their vaccine card, which is then sent to HR. If employees are not vaccinated or boosted, they need to answer questions about their health status.
"It's all kept in the cloud, and we can access it any time," Courtney said.
At The Public Theater in New York City, Brit Sellers is in charge of keeping patrons, performers and over 175 employees protected. She contracted with ReturnSafe, which offers a HIPAA-compliant solution for safety and compliance, allowing employers to manage positive cases and test results, track employee vaccination and health status, and keep up with mandates.
The health screener function on the platform "helped us comply with the New York State Health and Essential Rights (HERO) Act, but we found that the uses for the program were more versatile than what we were using it for," said Sellers, COVID-19 testing coordinator. "It has been very helpful with managing vaccine records and remaining organized for our theater with the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic."
Beth Schubert, co-founder of online publication OwnTheGrill.com in Athens, Ga., ensures that her company is following COVID-19 mandates and her 10 employees are kept safe with the assistance of her outsourced HR agency. "We use the agency that deals with our HR to ensure that all new employees who want to work in the office understand and comply with our social-distancing regulations and our preferred vaccine status," she said.
Why Employers Choose to Outsource
For Ampirical, complying with COVID-19 mandates is critical to the survival of the business. The construction company relies on illness and injury logs filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to bid on future work; OSHA requires most employers to document work-related accidents and illnesses.
"Every company that falls under OSHA has to do the same thing, but only companies like mine have to keep those numbers below a certain threshold or we would lose all of our construction work," Courtney said.
At OwnTheGrill.com, Schubert outsources compliance because "it's easier and more cost-effective for us as a business to outsource our HR department, including compliance, than employ a full-time HR specialist."
For The Public Theater, outsourcing not only ensures compliance, but also "[makes] certain that we are able to protect our staff, artists and patrons as best as we can with our mandatory vaccine policy," said Sellers.
The same is true at the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit health care organization in Minneapolis that uses ReturnSafe's technology to "continue doing our work with the most updated information to effectively follow CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines when an employee tests positive," said Vice President of HR Meg Adams. "[It] also allows us to track guest and vendor information to gain access to our facilities safely and provides great reporting capabilities to help us manage work assignments."
Delegating New Responsibilities
Jikku Venkat, co-founder and CEO of ReturnSafe, based in Austin, Texas, said some businesses outsource because they want to avoid the responsibility of safeguarding sensitive health information about their employees. Plus, keeping track of COVID-19-related health information "is an additional burden for HR administrators and something they haven't done in the past. Therefore, it's new and has a learning curve."
Girish Pashilkar, CEO of BP Logix in Vista, Calif., which created the Vaccine Tracker App for businesses, said even without a mandate at the federal level, companies still need to comply with state and local mandates, which creates a huge administrative burden for small and midsize businesses.
"Compliance is especially complex for employers operating in multiple locations that span different jurisdictions," he said. "For example, some states have instituted strict vaccine mandates, while other states have banned vaccine mandates. If a business has employees working in both states, they need to be ready to accommodate the requirements of both jurisdictions. Managing that level of complexity is not an easy feat, which is why businesses are turning to solutions that allow them to automate those processes."
Also, when employees get sick and can't work, businesses need to contend with disruptions to staffing coverage and revenue flow. "Keeping track of employee vaccination status and test results allows businesses to better assess their risk of disruptions and respond quickly to outbreaks," Pashilkar said.
With the right tools in place, employers can avoid OSHA penalties or litigation filed by employees who get sick on the job, he added: "Employers are already seeing this with the rise in COVID-related lawsuits filed by employees citing negligence and unsafe workplace conditions."
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.