Vaccines are here, hallelujah! many employers are saying. Depending on your state, county or even city, essential workers on the front lines are now eligible or soon will be for the COVID-19 vaccine. But how to convince your employees to take it when their turn arrives? We asked leading franchise operators for their best ideas.
Start educating now (or better yet, a couple of months ago.) That's the focus of Shelly Sun, CEO and founder of BrightStar Care, the home healthcare franchise. In their company-owned locations, they're working on "showing them how to register; giving them appropriate time off to take the vaccine." Helping employees cut through the maze of rules and websites and procedures is a must, in a choppy vaccine rollout.
But franchisors, beware. With franchisees' employees, Sun and others note, franchisors must stay hands-off in order to avoid joint employer liability. "Our franchisees are obviously the employers. We are focusing on education and communication with our franchisees, and they will make the decision," Sun said.
Emphasize the "why." Leaders at one senior care facility each held a chalkboard explaining why they were getting the vaccine. "Protecting residents and staff," one said. BrightStar Care produced a video, urging vaccinations as a patriotic way to get the country and its people back on track. And New Orleans is using local celebrities to encourage vaccines so the good times can roll again, one day. “I’m getting the vaccine so we can have Mardi Gras, y’all!” one said. People who see the larger reasons behind the vaccine effort will be more likely to take it.
Yes, employers can mandate the vaccine, as long as they accommodate those who refuse due to religious beliefs or medical conditions, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. United Airlines in late January became one of the first large employers to announce it planned to require workers to get the vaccine; no franchise operation has publicly done so, yet.
But if you mandate, beware. HR attorneys advise careful consultation to be sure any mandate is properly handled. Another note of caution comes from attorney Jeff Adelson, partner with Adelson McLean. "If the employer mandates the use of the vaccination…as a condition of continued employment, regardless of where the vaccination is obtained, it's likely to be considered a compensable injury" if the employee has a severe reaction, he told Business Insurance magazine.
Ask your employees. Gil Gonzalez owns three Detail Garage franchises in southern California. He said it's too early to make a decision about vaccines because his workers are not yet eligible and likely won't be until the second quarter. "But as far as how do we decide, for me it will be, get the info from my employees, and if the majority say it shouldn't be mandatory, or if I get a sense that we all want to take it, then we'll do something to get those resources to them. It will be a matter of, what as a team we should do."
Recognize the controversy. John Baldschun, an America's Swimming Pool Co. franchisee in Chattanooga, Tennessee, says he's taken the same stance on everything COVID-related. "You can always find someone to support your opinion. My duty is to protect our customers and protect the employees," he said. "My employees have wide-ranging views on COVID, on the vaccine, on the political situation, so I said it this morning in a meeting: we are going to continue to respect other people's beliefs and respect their freedoms, while not endangering people."
Consider incentives (or not). One employer, Test Prep Insight, is giving employees the day off after their second dose of the vaccine, plus the two followings days off paid, plus a $100 gift card and then dinner out, according to Forbes. A healthcare provider in Missouri is entering everyone who takes the vaccine into a drawing for a $2,000 gift card. But beware: providing incentives could leave employers open to discrimination claims.