The race to secure a COVID-19 vaccine is continuing at high speed with many showing potential of coming into the market in the near future. However, as the search for a finalized vaccine continues, more people are becoming hesitant about receiving it. This can pose a problematic situation for small business owners such as HVAC contractors. The question is, can employers, like HVAC contractors, mandate that employees receive the vaccine?
Most employers leave the choice up to their employees on whether to get vaccinated. Usually, the ones that mandate vaccinations operate in high-risk environments, such as healthcare. However, the coronavirus poses a high-risk in every environment, especially people’s homes.
The pace of vaccine development has generated concern for people among the general public. A September poll by the Pew Research Center found that 75% of respondents worry the federal government will approve a vaccine too fast without fully knowing all the potential side effects.
Even with official guidance, there will be people who object to receiving a vaccine. However, there are only two legitimate reasons for granting an exemption under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
A medical concern such as pregnancy or an existing autoimmune issue.
A “sincerely held religious belief.”
Still, some people just do not like the idea of getting a vaccine in general.
State laws also create challenges to mandating vaccines. For example, California has stronger protections for religious exemptions than the federal government. Oregon, for instance, allows employers to offer a vaccine but forbids them from making it a condition of employment. Another challenge for employers could come from unions as they can use vaccination as an issue to take a stand for their members, especially those who object to getting vaccinated.
What is the best course of action?
If a vaccine does become available, contractors need to determine the best practice for encouraging staff to get vaccinated. They should educate employees about the risks of not vaccinating themselves, as well providing payment for the vaccination if applicable.
If employees still opt out of vaccination, HVAC contractors must consider their alternatives in order to continue running a safe business. For example, if an office employee who rarely interacts with the public refuses the vaccine, they could work from home instead. Accommodating field techs is more difficult due to the nature of their job. If an HVAC contractor does both commercial and residential work, non-vaccinated techs could potentially work on job sites where they avoid human interaction, such as rooftop units.
The advice the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) is giving to its members is to wait and see what guidance comes out from public health officials.
“ACCA follows the recommendations of the CDC and is referring ACCA members to the CDC website for vaccine policy guidance," said Hilary Atkins, ACCA’s general counsel and senior vice president of finance and administration.
Given the uncertainty of it all, it is a good idea for HVAC contractors to start thinking about plans, policies, and alternative courses of action so they are prepared when the time comes.