The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing late last week. The goal? To minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. The rule will impact an estimated 84 million workers, and employers are expected to comply by December 4, 2021.

Here’s what you need to know, and how to get started on tracking team member COVID-19 vaccinations.

1. Get familiar with the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard

First thing’s first: take the time to thoroughly review the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) and other resources provided by OSHA.

Here are some highlights:

  • The ETS covers employers with 100 or more employees. 
  • Employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, or adopt a policy requiring team members to either get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.
  • Employers must determine each team member’s vaccination status, obtain proof of vaccination from vaccinated team members, maintain records of each team member’s vaccination status, and maintain a roster of each team member’s vaccination status.
  • Employers must provide up to four hours of paid time off for team members to get vaccinated and reasonable time and paid sick leave to recover from any side effects. 
  • Team members who are not fully vaccinated must be tested for COVID-19 at least weekly (if the worker is in the workplace at least once a week) or within 7 days before returning to work (if the worker is away from the workplace for a week or longer). They must also wear a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.
  • Employers are not required to pay for COVID-19 testing, unless required by other laws, regulations, collective bargaining agreements, or other collectively negotiated agreements. Employers are also not required to pay for face coverings.
  • Team members who do not report to a workplace where other individuals are present, work from home, or work exclusively outdoors are exempt from the ETS.
  • Team members must notify employers if they test positive for COVID-19, leave the workplace immediately, and not return until they meet required criteria.
  • Employers must report work-related COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA.
  • Employers must provide team members with information about the ETS requirements and workplace policies and procedures established to implement them; vaccine efficacy, safety, and benefits; protections against retaliation and discrimination; and laws that provide for criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements or documentation.

The ETS became effective upon its publication in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021. Employers must comply with most requirements within 30 days of publication (December 4, 2021) and with testing requirements within 60 days of publication (January 4, 2022).

2. Prepare your COVID-19 vaccination policy

The ETS requires covered employers to develop a written mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, or a policy that requires team members to either get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.

Draft or update your COVID-19 vaccination policy to address the ETS requirements, including:

  • Requirements for COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Policy effective date.
  • Who the policy applies to.
  • Applicable exclusions, including medical contraindications, medical necessity requiring delay in vaccination, or reasonable accommodations for team members with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • Deadlines for getting vaccinated and submitting vaccination information.
  • Paid time for vaccinations and sick leave for recovery.
  • Information that will be provided to team members.
  • Information on determining a team member’s vaccination status and how this information will be collected.
  • Procedures for compliance and enforcement.
  • Notification of positive COVID-19 tests and removal of COVID-19 positive team members from the workplace.
  • Disciplinary action for team members who do not abide by the policy.

An employer who has both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees will have to develop and include the relevant procedures for two sets of employees in the written policy. Employers may also develop and implement partial mandatory vaccination policies that apply to only a portion of their workforce. For example, team members in customer-facing roles may have a mandatory vaccination policy, while vaccination may be options for team members in all other roles.

3. Put systems in place to manage vaccination tracking, COVID-19 testing, and paid time off

Get the right systems in place so you can comply with record-keeping requirements and reduce your administrative burden. For example:

  • Maintain vaccination records. Employers must maintain records of each team member’s vaccination status. Make sure you have a secure way to collect and store vaccination records.
  • Maintain a vaccination roster. Employers must maintain a roster that lists all team members and indicates whether each is fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, not fully vaccinated because of a medical or religious accommodation, or not fully vaccinated because they have not provided proof of their vaccination status. Update team member records to include this information, and pull a report as needed to update your roster.
  • Send vaccination record reminders. Draft communications to remind team members to submit vaccination records, and set up automatic workflows if your system allows it.
  • Maintain COVID-19 test results. Employers must maintain and preserve a record of each COVID-19 test result for each unvaccinated team member while the ETS remains in effect. Make sure you have a secure way to collect and store them.
  • COVID-19 test result reminders. Draft communications to remind unvaccinated team members to submit their weekly COVID-19 test results. Set up automatic workflows if your system allows it.
  • Track vaccination-related time off. Employers are required to provide up to four hours of paid time to employees receiving a vaccination, which cannot be offset by any other leave that the employee has accrued. Employers must also provide reasonable time and paid sick leave to recover from any side effects. Employers may require team members to use accrued sick time to recover, but may not require an employee to accrue negative paid sick leave or borrow against future paid sick leave. Update your time off tracker to address vaccination-related time off requests.

A modern People Operations Platform like Sapling can help you manage and streamline these processes, so you can maintain compliance.

4. Communicate with your team

As with any new policy, it’s important to communicate changes with your team, answer questions, and listen to feedback.

The ETS specifically requires employers to provide certain information to their team members, in a language and at a literacy level they can understand, which includes:

  • The employer vaccination policy.
  • The process that will be used to determine employee vaccination status.
  • The time and paid leave team members may receive for vaccinations and any side effects experienced following vaccinations.
  • The procedures team members need to follow to provide notice of a positive COVID-19 test or diagnosis of COVID-19 by a licensed healthcare provider.
  • The procedures to be used if a team member would like to access their own records.
  • Policies and procedures for COVID-19 testing and face coverings for unvaccinated employees (if applicable).
  • The CDC document “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines,” to explain COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, safety, and the benefits of being vaccinated.
  • Information on protections against retaliation and discrimination, and laws that provide for criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements or documentation.

You may choose to share this information via a company all-hands meeting, email communications, printed fact sheets, or a combination of communication methods.

It might also be a good idea to run a Pulse survey to gauge how your team members are feeling about this ruling. COVID-19 vaccinations can be a divisive issue and collecting feedback may help you better navigate implementation and provide a stronger employee experience.

5. Send requests for vaccination records and COVID-19 testing

Employers are expected to comply with most requirements of the ETS by December 4, 2021, so it would be wise to begin collecting vaccination records as soon as you’re able. Create workflows to request proof of vaccination from team members and make it easy for them to upload their documents. You may also want to track which vaccination was received and when, in case boosters are required to be considered “fully vaccinated” in the future.

The ETS testing requirements for unvaccinated workers go into effect on January 4, 2022. Your team members have until that date to receive the primary vaccination dose(s) necessary to achieve full vaccination. That includes one dose of Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) or two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. 

Team members who have not submitted proof of full vaccination will be subject to your COVID-19 vaccination policy, which must be applied consistently. OSHA does not require employers to continue employing an unvaccinated person who refuses to get vaccinated, though other applicable laws and/or labor management contracts might. If your policy allows it, team members who have not received the primary vaccination dose(s) by the January 4 deadline will be required to submit weekly COVID-19 tests and wear masks in the workplace. Create workflows to request weekly test results from your unvaccinated team members and make it easy for them to upload their documents.

Final thoughts on tracking COVID-19 vaccinations

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires that employers provide safe and healthful workplaces for their team members. Tracking COVID-19 vaccinations and test results will help you do that.

Unfortunately, vaccines have become a very charged and emotional topic. Taking a technology-first, data-driven approach can help to insulate HR from confrontation while giving them a solid audit trail around how vaccine policies are being consistently implemented and enforced.

Sapling has an end-to-end solution for communicating, implementing, and managing your new immunization policies. Request a demo to see how we can help you.


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