Manufacturers Gear Up Vaccination Policies for Employees

Paid time off, incentives, mandates not part of most plans

By Paul Bergeron March 10, 2021
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Manufacturers Gear Up Vaccination Policies for Employees

​Manufacturing employees might not be considered among the country's front-line workers, but lately they have steadily been moving up the priority list for group vaccinations in many states. This week, many are able to set inoculation appointments for the first time.

In North Carolina, for example, manufacturing employees in critical areas became eligible to register for the vaccine on March 3.

Elsewhere, such as in New Jersey, manufacturing companies' first priority is to simply have enough vaccines made available by the state to serve their employees. "That's the first hurdle," said John W. Kennedy, Ph.D., chief executive officer for the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program in Cedar Knolls, N.J. "Then we can look at policy."

President Joe Biden's administration said last week that it expects all Americans to have access to the vaccine by May 31. More good news: March 7 marked the first day of the pandemic when more people were vaccinated than COVID-19 cases were reported.

None of the handful of manufacturing companies we spoke to are requiring staff to receive the vaccine, though most estimate high percentages of their workers are willing to receive it. However, research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 28 percent of workers in the U.S. were willing to lose their job rather than get vaccinated.

What to Be Thinking About

Stacey Berk, founder and managing consultant for Expand HR Consulting in Rockville, Md., said that "much like treatments and the vaccination rollout itself, companies' approaches to vaccination policies are evolving. Employers have to consider their workforce."

Executives and HR teams are examining their options, she added, and considering legal and practical ramifications.

[See SHRM's COVID-19 Vaccination Resources for FAQs, sample policies, what to do if employees refuse to get the vaccine, and more information.]

"For example, if an organization requires the vaccine because they have essential workers, requests for accommodation such as religious, pregnancy or disability reasons have to be considered," she said.

As they wait for their employees to become eligible to receive the vaccine, Berk said employers should update their return-to-work plans.

"This may include a budget adjustment, temporary remote or in-person hybrid policy, processes, and additional practices through fall. Companies offering to pay for the vaccine and provide paid time off for appointments may have a leg up in encouraging employees to get vaccinated. Future planning may even include hosting vaccine fairs, as the organization would do for the flu vaccine."

HR teams should be thinking through these possibilities with company executives:

  • Some employees will oppose the vaccine for political reasons. What should your reaction be?
  • What if an employee comes down with COVID-19 after taking the vaccine?
  • What are our plans for encouraging or providing COVID-19 vaccines in the future, as experts say we may need to take this vaccination each year as we do the flu vaccine?
  • What new vaccine-related regulations from local, state and federal agencies may be coming?

Taking Time Off Work

Food services employees—essential workers in North Carolina—are scheduling their vaccination appointments now.

Robert L. Guy, SHRM-SCP, chief people officer for Darnel Inc. in Monroe, N.C., said members of his 200-person workforce have appointments this week and beyond. Darnel manufactures food packaging items.

"It wasn't too long ago that we were hearing the vaccine would become available around March," Guy said. "At the time, that seemed so far away."

Darnel created an essential worker certification (similar to this template) to give its workers so they can show authorities that they are eligible for the vaccine.

The document, in part, reads:

"… [T]he individual in possession of this letter is a 'critical infrastructure industry employee' of the Food and Agriculture industry and should be considered exempt from local restrictions such as curfews, shelter-in-place orders, and other mobility restrictions when reporting to, returning from, or performing his or her work functions. We ask that you allow this individual to continue with his or her job in the interest of protecting public health and security."

Guy has communicated news updates about the state's vaccination policies to his employees through many corporate channels, such as over the break room TVs, signage in hallways, posts on the company's payroll services website, in casual conversations and during town hall employee meetings. Darnel records those town hall meetings and puts links to the video on its company website.

Guy, a member of a local SHRM working group of professionals in the manufacturing industry, says that during its regular meetings, no companies stated that they are requiring vaccinations as terms of employment, and none are offering incentives to its workers to get the vaccine.

"If our workers schedule their vaccines and have to leave during their shifts to obtain it, we ask that they provide documentation that they had the inoculation," Guy said. "We won't be reimbursing them for being off the clock in order to get the shot, but will consider time away as 'excused.' "

Guy said the company's mantra is: "Keeping our workers safe is our No. 1 priority."

"Our business has really picked up during the past year, and we need as many workers on shifts as we can bring in," Guy said. "Our factory runs 24/7. But at the same time, we've emphasized to workers that if they do not feel well—related to COVID-19 or not—that they do not come to work.

"We are uncertain how the vaccine will affect workers directly following the vaccine, but will still ask them not to return to work if they are feeling ill."

Guy said, fortunately, Darnel's machinery already meets the social distancing standards. "Nonetheless, we perform daily checks of temperatures and encourage more hand-washing, on top of what a manufacturer already requires for hygiene. We've installed no-touch time clocks that work on facial recognition. These machines can identify our workers even if they are wearing a mask or hair net."

Willingness to Take Vaccine

The average age of Darnel's workers is just over 40, Guy said. He's heard a few employees say they won't get the vaccine, "but mostly they are on board. I would be surprised if we end up with less than 80 percent who take the vaccine. And that includes some workers who might have skipped the flu vaccine—they are not hesitating to get the COVID vaccine. We don't have any employees age 65 or older. A few are in their 60s, and they are the ones who are most enthusiastic about getting the vaccine."

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