Companies might finally be eyeing their return to work. But on the road back, leaders need to ask questions to ensure a safe, easy, and understandable plan of action on the way back.

But you’re undoubtedly going to run into a touchy situation on the road back to office work—the vaccine question. Can you require employees get vaccinated to work? Will you run into legal troubles only allowing vaccinated employees to return to the office? Will allowing unvaccinated employees into the office pose a threat?

Luckily, a recent article from AICPA’s Journal of Accountancy looked to address some of the issues you might run into on the return.

Encourage, Educate, or Enforce?

The main question in this comes down to a decision for managers: Do you encourage and educate your staff about the reasons to schedule a vaccine—or do you require all on-site employees to get their shots before they can even come back?

Potential Challenges of Requiring Vaccines

According to the article, requiring vaccines could run employers into legal troubles, workers’ compensation claims, and potential challenges to the mandate.

“In general, U.S. employers can mandate their workers get vaccinated, but most companies are encouraging rather than enforcing, unless they are in industries such as health care or food services where workers deal directly with a vulnerable public. Most CPAs are already working from home, making public accounting firms less inclined to issue such an order.”

Four Ways a Mandate Could Cause You Trouble

However, the idea of requiring vaccines could run managers into trouble:

  • Dealing with the Emergency Use Approval: First of all, the vaccine isn’t truly FDA approved. Emergency approval is different than true approval, meaning that a traditional mandate (i.e., MMR vaccine for school) could be hard to work with.  
  • Workers’ Compensation for Complications: The first problem to address—what happens if you require a vaccine and there’s a complication? “If you are mandating and someone has complications, it’s very likely that they would be able to demonstrate that they got the vaccine in order to work, and therefore a workers’ comp claim could be considered,” said Mark Spring, office managing partner at CDF Labor Law LLP in Sacramento, Calif.
  • State and Local Limits on Requiring Vaccines: Additionally, the article finds that many states are working on legislation to prevent employers from mandating vaccines to work. Legislative attempts have already been launched in some states, led by North Dakota, whose legislators are introducing bills to block businesses from mandating employee COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • ADA and Religious Concerns: Another area where you could run into ADA and Civil Rights Issues. “If employees have religious beliefs against vaccines, or medical conditions that preclude them from safely getting vaccinated, employers who force them to do so as a condition of employment could be in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Steps to Encourage Your Staff

For this, you may benefit from taking an educational approach. JoA recommends the following steps to handle the vaccine rollout while avoiding possible staff-related and legal complications:

  • Develop Consistency: Be consistent in your directives regarding the vaccine and establish formal, written guidelines that everyone is expected to follow.
  • Be Flexible: The best path to drive adoption is to educate and be flexible. Provide information to employees so they can make informed decisions about getting or bypassing the vaccine. Simply offering information could go a lot further than requiring vaccines to show up.
  • Take the Lead: If your organization is pushing employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, then partners or other managers in the firm should set an example, if possible.
  • Develop Legally Abiding Policies: Don’t expose yourself to legal issues. If your firm decides to mandate the vaccine, consult an attorney who specializes in employment law and is knowledgeable about the laws of the state(s) where your firm is located.

Planning Your Return: Discuss Initiatives with the Controllers Council

From establishing a hybrid work landscape to planning for a return of revenue, your path back to normal might prove challenging. No matter how long it takes, the return to work has to happen at some point. If you’re looking to plan for a safe and consistent plan for getting back to normal, stay up with all the latest from the Controllers Council, and sign up for updates, as we expect to announce a return to normal webcast in the coming weeks.

Looking to learn even more? Attend our Thursday, 5/13 webinar Return to Office: Planning & Perspectives. As corporate America plans to “Return to Office” (RTO), Controllers and Corporate Finance must not only participate, but take leading roles. Learn from a multi-functional panel of experts how company culture will shape re-opening of offices, how office space will be re-defined, as well as the future of work and the role the office will play. Plus much more!

Click here to register now.