What is Acceptable in Global Work, Travel: Virus Testing or Vaccination?

Can organizations require employees and business travelers to be vaccinated? The question stems from the fact that not everyone may be onboard with vaccines. 

According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 60 percent of U.S. workers said they will probably or definitely get the vaccine once it becomes available to them. However, 28 percent of respondents said they are willing to lose their jobs if their employer requires the COVID-19 vaccine.

It remains to be seen how employers and employees will react when the time comes that they will have to make a decision. Vaccinations are considered likely to decrease the spread of the virus, especially in the workplace; that is for those who believe in vaccines. Global mobility professionals would need to address this matter if a foreign talent being recruited to work in the United States is on the fence about it.

Would the US government impose vaccination as a requirement for incoming foreign assignees? After all, the act of wearing masks is not exactly popular among the masses, but would those opposed to it change their tune when it comes to foreigners? Would there be a different set of rules for expats and business travelers? What about employers who simply require an employee to be vaccinated before traveling? Can they prevent an unvaccinated employee from traveling abroad?

It will be likely that many countries, while making inoculation for their citizens voluntary, require travelers from elsewhere to show proof of vaccination in order to be able to enter their host country.

To err on the side of caution, many organizations think it would be in a foreign traveler’s interests to be vaccinated, and for the employer to prevent an employee who has not been vaccinated from traveling for company business. Because if an employee catches the virus during a business trip, there is a risk not only to the employee but to their family, friends and colleagues as well.

What is acceptable?

Attorney Katherine Dudley Helms was quoted as saying to SHRM, a professional HR member group, “If the employer has made the vaccine mandatory, it needs to be sure that it is ready to terminate or otherwise address employees who refuse and who are not entitled to a reasonable accommodation.”

It’s important to address this issue early, considering the fact that employers and global mobility professionals may face discrimination charges if they deny acommodation requests based on medical or religious objections, she added.

For domestic business travelers, what may be acceptable for both employers and employees is the fact they could simply be required to take a virus test, and be quarantined for two weeks. New HR work policies may require it as well.

Also, there’s already a guideline from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that employees may be exempt from employer vaccination mandates under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other workplace laws. 

Even with the guideline, though, this could potentially divide those for and those who are against vaccination, especially in a highly volatile political environment. Already, the issue of race has been hotly debated, throw in the mix those for and against vaccinations, and employers may find themselves seeing an uncomfortable return to the workplace. 

Gathering pace in many countries

Vaccination programs are gathering pace around the world, even if some of them are not yet ready to get vaccinated. This adds pressure to employers and global mobility professionals to consider work policies that may however become a bone of contention among workers, with concerns for those who are wary of acquiring the virus or some variant of it for the non-maskers as employees return to work on-site.

Employers have their work cut out for them, as they try to figure out how to go about planning for business strategies and recruitment as a result. This includes finding out if there will be enough vaccine doses available in different countries, including the US, given that the roll-out of vaccines is typically administered by government authorities.

A huge roll-out of vaccination programs in many countries would offer hope, even if the recent discovery and spread of new variants with greater resistance shows are still in question. So far, vaccinations are taking place in many US cities, which has prompted offshore companies to plan on sending their talents again in the US, whether on assignment, projects or short-term business travel. (Dennis Clemente)