Should You Require Vaccinations in your Veterinary Practice?
There is no question about it: The COVID-19 vaccine has been a controversial one. Perhaps this controversy has been more significant than in the healthcare world, as many employers have implemented a vaccine requirement. While current law has upheld the idea of a healthcare employee’s vaccine requirement, this has done little to alleviate the controversy surrounding the area — including within veterinary practices.
Regardless of how you proceed in terms of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, you should have a written policy that lays out your policy. If you implement a vaccine mandate, be sure to mention reasonable allowable accommodations for people with qualifying medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs. At HR for Health, we have sample policy templates that can help you explain your vaccine decisions and allow employees to apply for exemptions.
Do Current Laws Regarding Healthcare Employee Vaccinations Apply to Veterinarians?
From a federal perspective, the answer to "Can employers require the COVID vaccine?" is yes. Veterinarians may implement a vaccine mandate as a healthcare practice.
However, the complete answer to this question isn't quite as simple. Federal laws are not the only laws to consider. There are also state laws, and some states specifically address this question. Your job will be to craft a policy in line with both state and federal law. This can unquestionably be a challenge. Fortunately, at HR for Health, we stay up to date with all relevant federal and state laws. As such, we can help you craft a compliant policy.
What Are the Valid Reasons an Employee May Reject a Vaccine?
While your veterinary practice can create a vaccine requirement, even healthcare employees’ vaccine requirements must allow for certain exceptions. Expressly, your veterinary practice must allow for qualifying medical or religious exemptions.
From a medical perspective, it is not enough for an employee to say that they don't like needles. A doctor must support their request for a vaccine exemption. You are allowed to request and maintain appropriate documentation about such an exemption. From a religious perspective, the religious belief must be a "sincerely held belief" to qualify. You should have employees sign paperwork that confirms this belief.
At HR for Health, we can help you manage this paperwork. We have a secure document storage feature to house all relevant information digitally. This can ensure that you and your authorized team members can access this information upon request.
When Should Termination of Employment be Considered?
Keep this in mind: Employees who request or are granted an accommodation cannot be disciplined or fired for doing so. If you attempt to discipline or fire an employee for requesting an exemption in your veterinary practice, you may face claims of retaliation, which is illegal. You also may not punish or fire an employee for requesting a denied exemption.
However, you may set a deadline for when an employee must apply for an exemption or get the vaccine and provide all necessary documentation. It must be a reasonable deadline. If your employee does not qualify for an exemption during that time, they may be terminated. Communicate the deadline in writing to your veterinary employee and track all relevant communications. You are also entitled to request all appropriate paperwork, such as a copy of an employee's vaccine card, as proof of vaccination. Whatever process you decide on should be followed consistently to avoid claims of discrimination and/or unfair treatment.
How To Encourage COVID-19 Vaccines without Requiring Them
If you ask, "Can employers require the COVID vaccine?" you may also be wondering about the best ways to encourage your veterinary team to get vaccinated. Fortunately, from a legal perspective, there are many things you can do. This includes:
- Sharing objective information and facts with your team members to educate them on vaccinations while also allowing them to voice any concerns
- Convey what the requirements are and show how your team will meet them. Communicate verbally and in writing, and then track any communications.
- Offer appropriate resources to team members, including access to all information they may need to make a reasonable medical decision.
How HR for Health Can Help
Medical and veterinary practices may require a COVID vaccine, but you should always check with an attorney or HR Expert — like HR for Health — to implement such a policy appropriately and ensure you are doing everything by the book. Furthermore, you need written policies, an updated employee handbook, and appropriate exemptions. You may also need to track the current case law to ensure that your veterinary practice is compliant with all relevant issues.
We know that these issues can be very complicated for your veterinary practice. At HR for Health, we're here to help. We can help you update your handbook, design appropriate technology, and securely store all relevant records to protect your practice.
Want more information? Reach out to us today and schedule a 15-minute meeting to learn more about how we can help your veterinary practice grow and thrive.