Vaccination Controversy Highlights Wellness Issues in the Workplace

While employers cannot require their employees to get vaccinated, there are many proactive steps they can take to ensure wellness and safety in the workplace. In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank and employment law expert Jennifer Shaw discuss the current vaccination controversy and other issues that come into play as employers attempt to keep workers healthy and productive.


Help Employees Stay Healthy

For employers, employee health and safety should always be a top priority, but employers cannot require employees to get vaccinated.

Recently, there was an outbreak of measles in the United States, as individuals who were not vaccinated traveled internationally and came into contact with the highly contagious disease. Unknowingly, they brought measles back to the U.S., where the virus is spread.

In the workplace, employers have very limited power when it comes to vaccination requirements.

“You cannot require as a term and condition of employment for someone to be vaccinated except in certain workplaces where they may be working with the elderly, people in the hospital,” Shaw tells Frank.

There are a few crucial things, however, that employers can do to help their workforce stay healthy. Many employers offer vaccinations in the workplace, Shaw says, “making it easy for the employees to get vaccinated and also having public health nurses and doctors explain what the risks of the vaccination actually are.”

What to Do When There Is an Outbreak

When an employee has been diagnosed with a highly contagious disease, it is important that the employer conveys this information carefully and directly to staff members. Shaw explains that many employers wanting to do the right thing may send out a memo warning their staff about the specific employee who has the contagious disease. Doing this, however, is a violation of privacy.

“The key is to not reveal the identity of the person who has the condition,” Shaw says. “You have to think strategically: who needs to know and what do they need to know.”

Additionally, how the information is unveiled to employees is equally important. With highly contagious diseases, like measles or the flu, people may panic and stop working if the information is relayed in the wrong manner.

Employers should also work to make the information on what the disease is and how it is spread accessible to their employees. Employers can find more information on what to do in case of an outbreak on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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