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A company guide to return-to-work

Originally published by San Diego Regional EDC

Your questions answered by experts in employment law

As many companies begin to plan for a safe return to traditional offices, it can seem like there are more questions than answers: Can companies require employees to be vaccinated? What if employees refuse to return to on-site work? The list goes on…

Below, attorneys Janice Brown and Sandy McDonough from Meyers Nave and Paul Plevin address some of the most common questions about returning to in-person work. As COVID-19 restrictions ease and health guidelines permit, here’s what you should consider:

Please note: The information provided does not constitute and is not intended to be legal advice.

Can I require my employees to be vaccinated?

Yes, but consider your options.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says an employer can:

  1. Mandate that employees be vaccinated, and
  2. Keep unvaccinated employees out of the workplace if the employer determines that the unvaccinated employee poses a “direct threat” due to a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.”

Still, you’ll need to consider:

  • Medical accommodations
  • Religious accommodations
  • Business necessity
  • Team morale
  • MOUs (unions)
  • Possible objections based on vaccine’s Emergency Use Authorization status

What are my options if an employee refuses to return to on-site work?

First, work with your employees to understand the root of the issue. Is the refusal due to a lack of childcare? Is it because of safety concerns? Work with your employees to consider possible alternatives, like paid or unpaid leave and continued remote work arrangements.

What else should I know as our company returns to the office?

Start by assessing your company’s needs, including updating key policies and plans, including a written COVID-19 prevention plan. Ensure you’re building trust with employees and lead with empathy by planning for accommodations, privacy, and health and safety needs—and communicate them accordingly. Once you have your plan, ensure the management team is trained to support.

Learn more

Have additional or specific questions about the return to the office? Janice P. Brown (Meyers Nave) or Sandy L. McDonough (Paul Plevin) can help advise your employer.

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