Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: Can I require my employees to get a flu shot? What if they refuse based on religious/medical reasons? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Good question. We’ve all seen the signs in the grocery store and in employee newsletters – flu season will be here before we know it, and I expect it may drum up more anxiety than usual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In short, it depends on your workplace. As an employer, you may be able to require employees to get vaccinated for the flu if getting sick would greatly impact your company. For example, most health care organizations require vaccinations as a condition of employment because of the risk of exposure to people who are in their care.
However, concern and caution over COVID-19 could make employers more likely to encourage flu shots across the organization. While workplaces outside of the medical field, child care, or those who work with the elderly might have trouble justifying mandatory vaccines such as the flu vaccine, that doesn’t mean an organization can’t strongly recommend employees get vaccinated – especially in the middle of a pandemic.
You raise a valid point. It’s important to balance your workplace health and safety concerns with employee rights, including those employees with disabilities and religious beliefs that might prevent them from getting vaccinated.
If someone claims a health condition that makes vaccination a health risk, you can request the employee to sign a consent form allowing you to learn about their condition and get proper documentation from the employee’s doctor. Additionally, the American with Disabilities Act allows employers to require medical documentation of disability.
Stay healthy and be well!
Both the flu and coronavirus can be deadly. Experts emphasize the importance of getting a flu shot before flu season.
Q: As a remote workforce becomes the norm, and as child care facilities start opening up again, do you think employers should start expecting remote employees to have day care arrangements in place vs. giving employees the flexibility to care for young kids while also working? – Anonymous
Taylor: Candidly, it depends on the employer. Before COVID-19 upended normality, many employers offered telework benefits and expected employees to have child care accommodations in place so they could work productively without disruption.
Juggling a job and kids at home has never been easy. However, this public health crisis has challenged working parents in ways nobody saw coming. Even if their employer provides child care on-site, or a stipend to supplement the costs elsewhere, facilities remain closed across the country. Not to mention, even if some may have reopened, many parents are leery of dropping their kids off. Add to that, many of these institutions still haven’t announced when, or if, they will reopen. These – not to mention other factors – leave parents and guardians between a rock and a hard place.
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I hate to say it because we’ve heard it a billion times by now. But this moment is truly unprecedented. Even still, many employers are doing what they can by coordinating with employees to understand their needs and do what they can. In fact, 68% of organizations are likely to offer greater flexibility in their work from home policies, while 59% say child care accommodations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
In some instances, such as when child care is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, some employers can offer emergency paid sick leave and expanded Family and Medical Leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
As you noted, child care facilities are reopening in certain areas of the country, and some employees have reestablished relationships with their day care providers. And, some may have family members stepping in to help out.
But if none of these work for you, I recommend talking to HR to find an alternative, such as personal leave, a modified schedule, or more frequent breaks. Or, perhaps something entirely different and uniquely tailored to you. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the employer to decide how it wishes to structure child care and remote policies and practices.
For many, this is uncharted territory. But let’s remember: We’re in this together. That makes it critical for employers to not only be flexible and agile, but empathetic and compassionate – especially if an employee can’t find a care provider.
Employers and employees alike have displayed an incredible amount of resiliency in navigating these challenges and changes together. So, I hope by starting the conversation now, you and your employer can strike a chord and find a balanced solution that works for you both.
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