Vaccine etiquette: What employers can and can’t ask you when returning to in-person work

Vaccine etiquette: What employers can and can’t ask you when returning to in-person work

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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HIPAA protections don’t apply to the COVID vaccine, so you might start getting asked about vaccination status more often, including from employers.

Why it matters: Most of us aren’t used to our employers having access our medical information, but the pandemic is changing that.

Whether you’re returning to an office, retail work or other workspace, you’re likely to be asked about whether or not you’ve been vaccinated. And employers can require employees to get vaccinated before returning to work. But most aren’t exercising that option.

  • “The main thing that most organizations are trying to figure out right now is how to really strike the balance between what’s legally permissible and what’s best for the health of employees and customers,” Cliff Scott, a professor of organizational science and communication studies at UNC Charlotte, tells me. “Also, what fits with our own ethical standards as an organization, our own culture, our own risk management needs.”

Details: Each company is handling the return to work differently, and they’re not all asking employees to disclose their vaccination status. But many are offering incentives for vaccinated employees.¬†Most of those incentives are perks to make getting a vaccine during the work day easier.

For example Target is offering free Lyft rides for employees to and from vaccine appointments, and paying them for the time they’re gone. Kroger is offering vaccinated employees $100 in store credit.

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What to expect: Scott shared some other ways employers are handling employee vaccinations as they return to the office.

  • Employers may ask workers to upload their vaccination cards into a company system for proof of vaccination.
  • In some workplaces vaccinated employees can opt out of daily COVID screening questionnaires after they’ve shown proof.
  • Mask policies vary widely from company to company, but some are allowing vaccinated employees to go without a mask.
  • Employers might encourage employees to get vaccinated through campaigns posted throughout the workplace. The CDC is even providing communication materials.
  • Employers should not ask unvaccinated employees why they haven’t gotten a vaccine.

Be smart: While COVID metrics have remained low over the last few months, the pandemic isn’t over. Conversations between employees and employers about health issues will likely continue in the future, especially when it comes to booster vaccines and fighting against new coronavirus strains.

“This is not a one time issue,” Scott says. “This is an issue that’s going to come back over and over again, and it does raise important questions about how organizations should communicate with their employees about these kinds of issues.”

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