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Combs Advises STAFDA: Employers Can Require Vaccines

Combs Advises STAFDA: Employers Can Require Vaccines
May 21
02:01 2021

Employers can require vaccines and require employees to return to the office, human relations consultant Nancye Combs told a Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association webinar.  

“You are a private business,” Combs of HR Enterprises Inc. emphasized in discussing Covid-19 employment issues.

Employers can have a “voluntary” vaccine policy leaving the decision to employees. Or employers also can institute a “deferred” policy allowing employees to wait until the vaccines have “permanent” approval. Currently the vaccines have “emergency” approval.

But also employers can issue a “mandatory” vaccine policy for all employees, Combs said.

And employers may require unvaccinated employees to wear masks, she added.

Combs opened HR Enterprises 35 years ago and today is the HR consultant for six national trade associations and dozens of companies.  

OSHA oversees every company of one or more employees, Combs noted.

“An employer must have a ‘safe and healthy workplace’ and employees must comply.”

Attorneys do not care what any particular governor says on masks, Combs explained.

OSHA just fined a Massachusetts company $136,000 for telling employees there will be no masks. “They enforce workplace safety first.”

“If employees are vaccinated, socially distanced and practice good hygiene, you may feel that is a safe workplace,” Combs said.

“But employers are not off-the-hook,” she continued. “If employers ignore the CDC and the workplace becomes dangerous, OSHA will issue a mandate and then everyone will comply or be fined because masks will become PPE and treated just like safety glasses, hearing protection and hard hats on a construction site.”

“If the employer adopts a procedure that is based on CDC guidance and it works to keep employees safe, that will satisfy OSHA,” Combs advised. “If the employer ignores the CDC and employees become ill, OSHA will be right over” with a reminder to have “a safe and healthy workplace” and issue citations and fines.

Combs said a “smart business leader will have a pandemic policy that is comprehensive and includes a vaccine policy and other workplace safety practices for masks, social distancing and hygiene.”

The pandemic has changed business in other ways. Just as companies previously needed fire and other disaster plans, a pandemic policy is a new must, Combs pointed out. Companies “have to” prepare for disasters from fires, to hurricanes to a CEO dying in a plane crash.

Employees are accustomed to disaster preparations including knowing where fire alarms and the nearest door are. “It is not just about Covid,” she said of potential disasters.

Employers “must follow federal, state, local, tribal or territorial regulations for local businesses and workplaces” even if mandates are lifted, Combs advised.

In transitioning back to normal from pandemic remote work, employers can schedule a hybrid or full-remote plans. In considering bringing employees back to company facilities, Combs suggested a 30- or 60-day “look back period” in analyzing remote vs. in office hours.

Remote time needs to be documented from check-in to check-out, Combs said.

Ultimately companies decide where the employee works. All lawsuits by employees thus far have failed, Combs pointed out. “When you own a company you can decide,” Combs explained.

She advised working with employees on timing of a return to the workplace. “People do well when they have a warning.”

Be careful in wording policies, Combs cautioned: If you say, “We might,” some will later respond, “You said.”

The HR consultant has found “all kinds of problems working from home.” Issues arise especially with hourly-paid employees.

Employees must certify their hours each and every pay period.  

There also are OSHA safety issues for remote employees, Combs continued. Time taken by children or personal use of a company car are samples of additional issues with remote work.

An issue as employees work from outside the home office is protection of company information. Where is your data? Combs asked. Can you swipe it? How are uploads managed? How will you get it back?

Company equipment used at remote locations is property of the company. Employers can withhold final paychecks, bonuses or other money until equipment is returned, Combs said.

In protecting your company data, you can require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements even when non-compete contracts may not be permissible, Combs advised.

  • With $600 federal funds added to unemployment (subsequently $300), there was “rampant fraud” in claims as 23 million people were unemployed. That figure is now down to 16 million unemployed.

“One of my CEO clients told me he received a claim with his name on it, one arrived for the chair of the board and one for the COO.”

Employers report receiving false unemployment verifications. Combs urged employers to return those to the state boldly marked “Fraud” so it gets routed to the fraud department for investigation.

Combs urged employers to respond immediately as unemployment claims are time-sensitive and if the employer is late, “you can forfeit the claim and it will be charged to you.”

Weekly unemployment averages $500 to $600 and ranges from $240 in Arizona to $1,234 in Massachusetts.

  • As of May 18, twenty states have ended the $300 additional unemployment funds to encourage people to fill job vacancies, Combs said.
  • Employers should anticipate unemployment taxes will increase with “no idea how high they are going to go,” Combs cautioned. Three percent or 10%? she asked
  • Combs found the #1 problem during the pandemic was alcohol abuse. That led to some serious issues for employers ranging from company cars to rape, Combs said. She cited the problem of an employee charging alcohol on a company credit card, then having a wreck and thus creating a company liability problem. Web:

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