Time Off & the COVID-19 Vaccine

Ensuring all employees have the time and flexibility that they need to be vaccinated is one key tactic to an employer's vaccine strategy.


February 05, 2021

Vaccinating employees against COVID-19 quickly became a top priority for employers in 2021. While only a few large employers (6%) indicated in January 2021 that they were considering vaccine mandates, many are exploring ways to raise awareness about vaccine benefits, address employee concerns and remove barriers to make it easy for their workforce to get inoculated. One key tactic to support these efforts and company commitments to health equity is to ensure that all employees have the time and flexibility needed to be vaccinated.

Giving Time to Vaccinate

The approach to providing time for COVID-19 vaccinations will vary across employers, and even within companies with different types of employees (e.g., full-time/part-time, exempt/non-exempt, remote/essential). When developing a company strategy for providing time away related to the COVID-19 vaccine, consider focusing on the goal of ensuring that all employees who want to can get vaccinated.

There are a variety of ways to provide time for the COVID-19 vaccine, from offering flexible scheduling to updating and/or communicating existing leave benefits to providing a new, dedicated time away benefit for vaccination. Here are some important considerations:

  • Which existing time away benefits and/or flexible scheduling are available to employees, and how, if at all, should those be adjusted?
  • According to Pew Research Center, 91% of employees working for large employers (500 or more) have access to paid sick leave. For large employers with existing leave benefits and/or flexible scheduling, adding a new time away benefit dedicated for the vaccine may or may not make sense. These employers should review current benefits and flexibilities to see if they can be used for vaccination. Then employers should make adjustments as necessary. For example, limiting or eliminating manager discretion for leave or flexible scheduling related to the vaccine could remove a barrier for some employees and ensure equitable treatment.

    Some employers may choose to add additional time this year to existing PTO or sick leaves (e.g., frontloading an additional number of leave hours to all employees) and communicate that this one-time benefit is intended to support employees who want to get the vaccine. Additionally, since many employers established a COVID-19 pandemic leave (e.g., 14 days for employees who have tested positive, are symptomatic or have been exposed to COVID-19), they could choose to allow that time to be used for the vaccine. If employers choose this approach, they may want to consider supplementing time if an employee has used all their COVID-19 leave.

  • Which employee populations have time barriers?
  • Employers should pay close attention to hourly employees who may not have access to leave benefits or flexible scheduling. Beyond benefit-eligible employees, employers may also want to determine if there are employees who have no or low leave balances (e.g., employees who have used all their time for other needs, new employees who have not accrued leave yet). In these cases, employers may decide to add time or allow affected employees to carry a leave negative balance.

  • What barriers do attendance policies or scheduling practices pose?
  • It is important to review attendance policies and ensure that employees are not penalized for getting the vaccine, or worse, are in a position where they are choosing between getting the vaccine and losing their job. Around the globe, challenges with scheduling vaccine appointments exist – which undoubtedly create workplace scheduling and operational issues. Employers may want to consider adding to or maximizing their strategies for last-minute coverage, such as flex pools or shift-swapping technology.

  • What amount of time away do employees need?
  • Employers should consider the time required to travel to a vaccination site and the time required to get inoculated, including the 30 minutes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for monitoring in the event of an immediate allergic reaction. Since most COVID-19 vaccines will require 2 shots, employers will want to double that time; alternatively, employers could specify that employees are granted different amounts of time for different vaccines, such as 2 days for vaccines requiring 2 doses and 1 day for vaccines requiring 1 dose.

    Employers also need to consider if and how they will provide time off related to side effects. According to CDC, some side effects are normal signs that the body is building protection; nonetheless, they may affect employees’ ability to carry out daily activities. That said, the side effects should go away in a few days. The employer examples below illustrate different durations for time away, as well as varying employer approaches.

  • Will proof of vaccination be required?
  • According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer can (but is not required to) request proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination. Before requiring such evidence, employers should review their related policies (e.g., sick leave policies) and labor agreements to guarantee consistency and compliance. Also, EEOC suggests that if an employer requires proof from a pharmacy or health care provider, the employer may want to warn employees not to provide any medical information as part of the proof to avoid ADA or GINA implications. It is also noteworthy that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) may provide additional guidance in the future.

Other Recommendations

  • Communicate to all employees what time away benefits and flexibilities—whether new or existing—are available for vaccine-related purposes.
  • Accommodate employees who have a medical condition or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from getting the vaccine.
  • Take a global approach and consider the unique needs of employee populations in each country – if applicable and when possible.
  • Keep a close eye on paid sick and COVID-19 leave laws.
  • Create a comprehensive vaccination strategy; time away is just one piece of this puzzle. For more considerations, review the Business Group’s Employer Considerations in Anticipation of a COVID-19 Vaccine.

Learn More

Employers Taking Action

How to best respond and support employees during the pandemic is constantly evolving. Here are a few examples of employer actions related to time and flexibility:

We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work, so we are working to remove barriers.

Dollar General

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