I recently had a conversation with Laurie Ballantyne, one of our awesome new advisors (with a deep HR background), about the most common mistakes people make when creating COVID-19 company policies.
It can be hard to know what to do with such a challenging and polarizing issue. There’s a lot to consider – and it’s critical to get the right policy that takes care of people, from a business and personal perspective.
Approaches vary. Some have pushed ahead with 100% vaccination requirements, others want to give people complete choice, and still others are playing the wait-and-see game hoping government agencies will decide for them.
While we don’t know what’s right for you, we wanted to share Laurie’s insights about the mistakes she sees well-intentioned people making that end up leading to ineffective policies.
 Not enough thought about the consequences
In the rush to create a policy, it’s important to think about the potential impact and consequences of your decisions – and if and how you will deal with them.
Example: Your employee vaccination policy makes proof of COVID-19 vaccination mandatory as a condition of employment. But then you find out your top performer is not vaccinated, for whatever reason. With an “all or nothing” policy choice, you may lose an A-Player in a situation that could have been avoided with a little more due diligence before wrapping up the policy.
People choose not to be vaccinated – or cannot be vaccinated – for a variety of reasons. A leadership team’s role is not to debate sides or to change anyone’s mind. Their responsibility is to provide the proper protections for both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees to do their best to provide a safe work environment, psychologically and physically.
 Hope public health will make employee vaccination policy decisions for you
You are overwhelmed and uncomfortable deciding what is right for your people and your organization, so you do nothing.
Example: You have an outbreak when someone tests positive. With no plans in place about how to handle the situation, an employee files a complaint with the occupational health and safety governing body that you have not fulfilled your obligation as an employer to provide a safe work environment for employees. Not taking that obligation seriously can land you in hot water.
An employer is required to protect employees and to provide a safe work environment – to do whatever is reasonable. And “reasonable” is hard to define. We all know the minimum mandated public guidelines about social distancing and mask-wearing, but many companies are not good at reinforcing those habits in the work environment.
We all get loose when following guidelines when we think we have some armour of vaccination protection – and, sometimes, senior leaders can set the worst example by, say, not wearing masks in meetings. People need to remember that vaccinated people can still carry the virus. We are protecting not just the unvaccinated but the vaccinated, as well. There’s risk both ways.
With more due diligence, outbreaks that send people home sick can be avoided.
 No clarity on cost and execution
When you’re in the boardroom, be aware of all the repercussions of your decisions. Ask:
- What are all the financial costs and logistics of implementing an employee vaccination policy?
- Who is responsible – and who wants that job?
- Is it reasonable ask that person?
- Are you putting them at risk by having them continually engage and interact with others?
Implementing and monitoring a policy takes time, energy and effort – and cannot just be given it to a random administrative person.
- If you accept regular testing of unvaccinated employees:
- What kind of tests? (PCR rapid antigen test, self-administered rapid…)
- Who pays for testing?
- Who administers and monitors it?
- Who hands out the tests and ensures they are administered properly?
- Do you provide appropriate space in your workplace?
- Who collects and reports the data?
Example: In Manitoba, when you get a pack of rapid tests from the government or a pharmacy, you have to record the serial number of the test, the person who took it, the date it was taken and the results. When the box of tests is empty, you take it and all the data back to pharmacy and trade it in for a new box. If someone tests positive, the result must be reported right away.
 Underestimating employee responses and the impact on their mental health
Your employee vaccination policy decisions can be far more upsetting than you anticipate.
Some people may not be sympathetic to the reasons others are – or are not – vaccinated.
Some people may experience a lot of anxiety about safety in the work environment, whether there will be accommodations to enable them to work remotely if they are unvaccinated, or if they may lose their job.
Here are two examples:
- A company communicated to their employees that they were working on a policy. They asked employees to self-declare whether they are vaccinated and said they were rolling out the policy on a certain date. When rollout day came and the policy still wasn’t ready, one employee admitted she had been so anxious about the anticipated policy, she’d lost sleep and was struggling to focus on work. The uncertainty affected the mental health of others, as well.
- A company indicated a condition of employment was proof of vaccination. While that worked for new hires, candidates who were existing employees are trickier. One candidate, who knew a policy was pending, asked to be put on hold and withdraw from the interview process until she knew what the policy was. She couldn’t handle the pressure and anxiety of worrying about whether she would potentially miss or be denied an opportunity based on vaccine status.
Yet another company doesn’t allow discussions about COVID-19 and vaccinations, as part of their policy, because they can be deep and polarizing issues.
Don’t underestimate how different, difficult and significant people’s responses can be.
 No communications plan
A thoughtful strategy is required to introduce, execute and sustain the policy – and to go way above and beyond what you think is going to be necessary.
- Who is the dedicated team on your leadership group to answer questions, provide support and deal with a variety of responses?
- How will you handle resistance?
People are so busy doing what they’re doing. They spent lots of time thinking about a policy and then roll it out without a plan and wonder why there’s a wall of resistance.
Before you create your policy:
- Think about all the consequences before rollout
- Remember that your job is to protect and take care of all your employees
- Be clear the logistics and financial costs, including any accommodations you offer
- Understand the impacts on people’s well-being and stress levels
- Ensure you have a strong communications plan.
If you need additional assistance, or need help with ideas or troubleshooting, please reach out.
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