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In the fall of 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to formalize the following rule: “… all employers with 100 or more employees [must] ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.”

Even without this federal rule, your association may choose to implement its own vaccine mandate. Here’s how the federal vaccine mandate (or your association’s own mandate) might affect your organization.

Why a vaccine mandate?

At the most basic level, vaccine mandates could save billions of dollars on healthcare. In June and July of 2021, COVID hospitalizations that could have been prevented by a vaccination cost an estimated $2.5 billion dollars.

Higher vaccination rates also:

  • Decrease the spread of COVID-19 
  • Protect those most vulnerable
  • Reduce interruptions to the workplace caused by shutdowns and quarantine
  • Increase productivity

While some smaller associations are not required to implement vaccination mandates, there are major benefits to a voluntary, thoughtfully implemented vaccine mandate.

Your association and the vaccine mandate

Healthcare associations and others in front-facing service sectors are likely most impacted by vaccination mandates, but they aren’t alone.

With trade once again slowing as COVID cases fluctuate globally, healthcare associations aren’t the only ones looking at vaccine mandates and how they will affect employees. The National Association of Manufacturers announced in August that they would mandate vaccinations for all 150 of their employees. While this was an easier implementation in a smaller workplace already 94% vaccinated, other associations may struggle to navigate the treacherous waters of a vaccine mandate — especially those associations that cross party, religious and socioeconomic lines.

How to implement a vaccine mandate

Having a plan to implement vaccine mandates is crucial. If COVID-19 taught associations anything it’s that planning to support staffers is the difference between carrying on and struggling through.

Whether you are following federal rules or implementing your own vaccine mandate, there are a few key points to consider.

Clarify your guidelines

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How will you empower staff to get vaccinated? Time off? Mobile clinic?
  2. What’s the time frame for vaccination?
  3. What vaccination proof is acceptable?
  4. What groups will be exempted, and what proof will you require?
  5. For exempted groups, what steps will they need to take (weekly testing, quarantine after travel, etc.)?
  6. What’s the protocol for employees with COVID (or those exposed to COVID)?

You’ll need to clarify these guidelines to members and employees and be prepared to answers questions.

Allocate resources

A major impact of vaccine mandates on associations is the need for a specialized team to handle the daily realities of COVID-related issues that arise. Resources in terms of time, money and employees are necessary to adapt operations.

For example, if you offer a mobile vaccination clinic or time off to get vaccinated, these cost money (vaccine mandates require employers to cover the cost of vaccination). 

Similarly, developing a plan for coverage for an employee who has contracted or been exposed to COVID and needs to quarantine takes time, employees and money. It’s not always possible to simply add these tasks to an existing employee’s workload. 

Plan for a loss of talent (and members)

There is no getting around it. Regardless of the evidence of efficacy of vaccinations in preventing hospitalization from sever COVID and the commitment to public safety that many associations share, some employees or members will refuse the vaccination mandate for a variety of reasons. Plan for the loss of talent that may occur should you require vaccinations.

The good news? A tight labor market means that there are plenty of people looking for opportunities with your association. While it’s always good to retain workers who believe in your association’s mission and vision, there are others willing to step up when needed.

Some members who do not agree with vaccine mandates on principle may also choose to leave. While any loss can be hard, let them know that they are welcome back if they change their mind, and move on.

Offer non-vaccinated members alternatives

If your membership enjoyed frequent gatherings and social interactions that were halted due to COVID-19, a vaccine mandate can make these possible again. You’ll still need to offer your non-vaccinated members these benefits. Consider offering hybrid in-person/remote opportunities, with free or low-cost incentives for vaccinated members (and those with religious or medical exemptions).

Vaccine mandates and your association — moving forward

Vaccine mandates are likely a feature for associations for the foreseeable future. Thoughtful planning and mindful implementation of a vaccine mandate can help your association continue to thrive in the years ahead.

Suzannah Kolbeck
Post by Suzannah Kolbeck
October 18, 2021
Suzannah Kolbeck writes, paints, and rides horses in Baltimore, MD. She is the author of Healing Where You Are: An Introduction to Urban Foraging.