What HR needs to know about vaccine mandate for health care workers

Feb. 28 is the deadline to be fully vaccinated or to receive an approved medical or religious exemption

What HR needs to know about vaccine mandate for health care workers

Time is running out for health care workers at facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated.

Despite blocking President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for private employers, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate, which affects 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities. Feb. 28 is the deadline to receive your second dose or to receive an approved medical or religious exemption. Unlike the proposed private employer mandate, the CMS mandate doesn’t allow testing options in lieu of vaccination.

Only justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted their dissents in the health care case. “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have,” the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion, saying the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare cases.

It’s up to HR leaders to track and document employees’ vaccination statuses, process and track exemptions and then take additional safety precautions for those who are exempt. “HR leaders need to stay up to date with the ever-changing requirements for COVID-19 in the workplace and communicate that information throughout the company,” said Dawn Adams, president of HResults, a Hartland, WI-based HR consulting firm.

Adams took part in a recent webinar hosted by Calcium, a Chicago-based digital health analytics and data management company, on best practices for managing vaccine documentation and tracking requirements. Calcium’s clients include Planned Parenthood of Maryland, HealthFirst Family Care Center, Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth and other health care service providers.

CMS plans to working directly with state survey agencies to regularly review compliance of the mandate. Adams expects the agencies to conduct on-site reviews, either during the recertification process or as the result of a complaint from an employee. “Failing to comply with the requirements could result in your company losing funding and/or recertification,” Adams said.

Read more: More than one-third of U.S. employers to maintain vaccine mandate

HR managers should be trained on the processes, forms, procedures and timelines related to vaccination tracking. Adams stressed that HR isn’t required to accommodate an exemption request of someone solely trying to evade vaccination. In order for a medical exemption to be approved, the documentation must be provided by the employee; signed by a licensed practitioner in which vaccination falls within the scope of their practice; specify which of the vaccines the employee isn’t able to withstand along with recognized clinical reasons; and include a statement by the practitioner.

The requirements of the religious exemption are less cut and dry. An employee needs to explain their sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance and make the connection for why said belief justifies not being vaccinated.

As part of the webinar, Frank Muscarello, managing partner at Calcium, emphasized the importance of HR departments relying upon technological solutions for documenting and tracking vaccination and exemptions. The software platform should be affordable, easy to use and efficient, as you’ll want to be able to quickly display the required information if officials come knocking.

“Leverage technology to address concerns about privacy of personal health data,” Muscarello said. “You also want something flexible because of the ongoing changes. If the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ is amended to include a booster shot, you need to be able to track that.”

Health care workers in California already have to get their booster by March 1, as per the state mandate. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Mexico have all enacted similar mandates. Santa Clara County has a similar requirement, with a twist: workers in “high-risk settings,” like hospitals and jails, who are granted a medical or religious exemption aren’t allowed to stay in their position. Instead, they’re to move to a “lower-risk” job setting.

After hospitals in the region complained that the requirement would amplify the current staffing crisis, the county health department created a waiver option, where organizations could get approved to allow unvaccinated employees to stay in their high-risk job settings. However, County Executive Jeff Smith denied six unions’ pleas for waivers.

Meanwhile, San Jose has become the first city in California to mandate that its employees have a COVID-19 booster shot.

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