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As construction firms work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, a major pain point continues to center on skilled labor—finding and keeping skilled workers when virus concerns (among others) still hold many back.
 
One way firms can address such fears, while guarding the health of current employees and sending a strong signal to prospective workers, is by initiating vaccination drives, which fit well with health and wellness programs—with some notable considerations. (And contractors that haven’t set up a wellness program should know that it’s never too late.) 
 
Adding the COVID vaccination to a wellness program requires management to be responsive to the risks and laws that can come into play—like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act down to relevant state and local laws. To date, though, there’s been little formal guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on allowable incentives to boost employee participation. Another issue: whether to make vaccinations voluntary or mandatory.
 
Here’s what construction firms’ human resource management needs to keep in mind in proceeding.

1. All incentives are not equal—consider the risks

Until the EEOC issues clear guidance, incentives for getting COVID vaccines should be carefully considered. Firms should get input from their legal advisors. The risks associated with incentives depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • the amount of the incentive;
  • who administers the vaccine; and
  • protocols for accommodating workers who decline vaccinations for medical or religious reasons. 

The least amount of risk would involve simply educating employees about the safety and availability of the vaccine. Other lower-risk strategies might include granting all employees a reasonable amount of time off (two hours, for example) to get the vaccination. There would be no tracking of participation or penalties for declining. Another option would be offering a modest incentive, like a water bottle or t-shirt, which would put no undue pressure on an employee to participate. 

The greater the value of the incentive rewarded for getting a vaccine, the higher the employer’s risk. This is because of the optics: The program could be viewed as unnecessarily coercive, making employees feel as though they had no choice in participating. This would violate the wellness program rules.

2. Whether programs are voluntary or mandatory, lead with science

Vaccination programs should be built on a strong educational platform. They will be more successful if employees’ concerns over vaccination are validated with explanations supported by sound information from credible sources.

Construction firm executives have an important role to play in setting expectations and calming fears by visibly getting their own vaccines and helping workers navigate available resources.
 
Key points to cover in explaining the COVID vaccines and vaccination procedures including the following.

  • The science behind the vaccine. Unlike most, the COVID vaccines don’t contain an active virus and don’t alter one’s DNA. Cells are “instructed” to make a harmless “spike protein” that fools the body into thinking “COVID was here,” building an immune response and making protective antibodies.
  • Explain what can be expected with both the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines. People can get the virus after the first shot. They are less likely to test positive but will have the coronavirus antibodies. Those who have gotten the virus after the first dose typically have had less severe symptoms.

An allergic reaction can occur, usually from a pre-existing allergy to the ingredients in the vaccines. Allergies should be assessed via a checklist that is used before each shot to guard against an allergic reaction.

3. Think about the mental health factor

There’s already a concerning problem with mental health in the construction industry, which has the second highest rate of suicide, 53.3 per 100,000 workers. That’s on top of a wider mental health crisis that’s been brought on by the stress and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic.
 
A vaccination program creates a good opportunity to remind workers of the resources available to them to help relieve the emotional pressures they face. Remind them of benefits under their health plans, the resources of employee assistance programs, and the support available through wellness programs. Employers should emphasize the importance of self-care and show the way to achieving holistic well-being through exercise, healthy eating and stress management practices. Everyone needs to build sufficient mental resiliency to get through times like these.
 
COVID vaccinations are crucial for the U.S. population to achieve herd immunity and everyone to start working together to regain ground lost to the coronavirus pandemic. Construction firms are among those that have a role to play in getting the job done. Their challenge will be to navigate the risks with care.

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