On September 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced a vaccine mandate for employers (with 100 or more employees) to require vaccinations against Covid-19 or undergo weekly testing. Undoubtedly, this will propel the magnitude of answering the volume of employee questions to the top of HR’s to-do list.
Employees will have many questions about the mandate, from what will be required, how testing will be handled, if they may get an exemption, as well as repercussions for not adhering to these new requirements. Many of these questions are predictable and can be answered smartly by an Intelligent Assistant like MeBeBot, freeing up valuable time for the HR team, so that HR can focus on individual interactive process with employees (required by law) to determine who qualifies for a medical disability or religious-based reasonable accommodations.
The devil is in the details. Let’s quickly explore the details with Covid-19 exemptions.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified applicants and employees with a disability (such as vision or hearing disabilities, etc.) unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so creates an undue hardship to the employer or poses a direct threat to the safety of the employee or others in the workplace. The Delta variant of COVID-19 certainly poses a direct threat to the safety of employees and others in the workplace. A reasonable accommodation here is usually a medical exemption.
Some individuals may have medical reasons which prevent them from getting a vaccine, according to Prinz Law firm. Medical exemptions may include allergies to vaccine components, a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, or other health ailments that make the vaccine risky for the individual.
When HR receives a request, HR needs to begin what is called under the law, the interactive process. It involves a good-faith effort by the employer and the employee to discuss the employee’s specific circumstances and determine if any accommodation is needed. An excellent first step is to require the employee to put their request and the reason for the request in writing.
For accommodations under ADA for the Covid-19 vaccination, the employer should ask employees for documentation from their medical providers regarding the following:
- The nature of any impairment(s)
- The duration of the need for accommodation
- The extent to which the impairment(s) conflict with the employer’s vaccination requirement.
If the employer needs to consult with the employee’s health care provider, the employer must obtain a written medical release or permission from the employee.
As for religious accommodations, the exemptions can be a bit more tricky.
Employers have an obligation to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), unless the accommodation creates an undue hardship. A sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. The process is essentially the same as described above, including the interactive process, but is not as cut and dried. The first thing to look for is if the employee’s religion has a publicly held theology or statement supporting vaccinations. What is tricky is when an employee’s religious beliefs may not align with the religion’s public statements. However, these beliefs are still to be given consideration under the law.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has specified that religious objections do not have to be recognized by organized religion and can be “beliefs that are new, uncommon or seem illogical, or unreasonable to others.”
The positive news for Covid-19 vaccinations is that the major religions in the US have come out in favor of vaccination, making it difficult for their church members to claim a religious exemption. In fact, according to Vanderbilt University Medical Center research, the vast majority of Christian denominations have no theological opposition to vaccines, including Eastern Orthodox, Amish, Anglican, Baptist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites, Quakers, and Pentecostal Christians. Even the Christian Science Church, whose adherents rely largely on prayer rather than medicine, does not impose an official policy. It advises for respect for public health authorities and conscientious obedience to the laws of the land, including those requiring vaccination.
However, members of these faiths may raise exemptions claiming religious grounds. Roman Catholic employees, for example, may say despite the Pope encouraging vaccines, they won’t get vaccinated due to the different opinion by a bishop, priest, or claim their own seriously held religious belief.
Employers will have to decide how high a legal bar to set and how aggressively to enforce the mandate against religious-based requests. By preventing a “direct threat to the safety of employees and others in the workplace,” they may have to confront individuals, who hold a position that is not in line with the public position of their church or any organized religion. It is advised to consult with your labor law attorney to determine how much legal risk your company wants to take until further legal clarity emerges.
Answering the myriad of commonly asked questions on company policies is an ideal use case for an Intelligent Assistant, reducing the time spent by the HR team to support these FAQs. Automated answers can even provide links to the specific policies, forms, or videos, for additional clarity and insights. Leveraging real-time data usage analytics, MeBeBot’s dashboards help HR teams to track the questions of most interest and surface new questions employees are asking that are not being answered (and may need to be added to the knowledge base).
MeBeBot is designed to be easy to install, update, and maintain without the need for costly consulting services fees and without requiring technical resources. MeBeBot installs in under 30 minutes in Teams, Zoom, Slack, and as a web chat app in SharePoint. Our “bot in a box” solution allows our customers to get a head start with implementation by using our curated global database of over 250 commonly asked questions (with default answers) for HR, IT, Operations, and Finance. Best of all, MeBeBot can be launched in days to weeks to your employees, saving you valuable time and money.
Additionally, with Push Messaging, our customers can alert employees to company updates, provide reminders for deadlines for processes, and send out notifications as policies change. This is ideal for rapidly changing initiatives (such as the Covid-19 vaccination mandate).
MeBeBot is affordable and often provides a return on your investment in the first several months of usage. Our customers report about 75 percent fewer questions being asked of HR and a 60 percent reduction in Tier 1 level IT help desk tickets, saving these overworked professionals valuable time. Customers earn a $250k to $1M return on investment within a year.
The complexities and emotions around the Covid-19 vaccination mandate and other issues (such as open enrollment and reopening the office) creates long days for an already overworked HR team. The time is ideal for HR organizations to hire an Intelligent Assistant to answer the commonly asked questions for these issues and empower employees to navigate these complex issues, freeing up HR to work with employees and managers to resolve more complex issues.
Contact us to learn how we can help you solve problems, save time for your overworked staff, improve employee experiences, and generate a great return on investment.