The entire world is in the middle of one of the largest public health initiatives in the history of humanity: The roll out of COVID-19 vaccinations to nearly 8 billion people. With such a momentous undertaking, there is a lot of uncertainty as new data and guidance becomes available.
It is very important to NAHB that members stay informed about the availability of vaccines to workers and what happens once people are vaccinated. Please remember that the situation is changing rapidly and flexibility will be required by all for the foreseeable future.
New Guidance and Rules for Vaccinated Americans
The CDC recently issued surprise guidance stating that fully-vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, or local regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. While the guidance was welcomed by many, the abrupt nature of the release created a lot of questions.
How can you tell who is fully vaccinated? The federal government and all states are not requiring proof of vaccination for most activities, so an honor system is in place in public spaces. Most stores, businesses and restaurants still require masks for everyone indoors. And many colleges are requiring vaccination proof for school in the fall. So, while proof is not required by any governments, it is advisable to save your vaccination card and carry it with you.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance late last year for employers on the question of mandating vaccinations. In short, employers can mandate vaccines, but should allow exceptions for accommodations covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or religious objections. In addition, the EEOC is clear that employers can ask if an employee has been vaccinated. However, if the employee says they have not received a vaccine, the employer cannot ask why not. Employers also cannot ask employees medical questions about family members. Further, employers must keep employee vaccine information confidential.
Important Recent Developments for Home Building Businesses
The sudden CDC announcement also caught other government agencies off guard. OSHA is currently deferring to the new CDC guidance for jobsite rules, noting that it is “reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will update materials on [its] website accordingly.” But there has been a recent positive development from OSHA in this area.
OSHA had initially signaled that it would require the construction industry to record adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines under its 29 CFR 1904 Occupational Injuries and Illnesses recordkeeping requirements. After NAHB and Construction Industry Safety Coalition partners sent a letter and held discussions with key OSHA staff, noting that this requirement might deter vaccinations in the industry, OSHA backed off the requirement and noted that it will not enforce it until May 2022.
NAHB is still strongly urging home builders to encourage their workers and subcontractors to get vaccinated. Resources are available on nahb.org. But it should be noted that there is some complexity around businesses urging vaccination.
If an employer incentivizes its employees to get vaccinated (with time off, money or other reward), employees who are not able to receive the vaccine should still be eligible to get the incentive, otherwise it could be seen as unequal treatment and give rise to discrimination claims.
It is clear from the data that the vaccines provide the best path to a return to normal. Everyone is eager to ditch masks, go out on the town, travel and see loved ones. But please remember we are only at the halfway mark, with just under 50% of Americans fully vaccinated. Remain flexible and stay positive, and we’ll see you at IBS 2022 in Orlando.
For questions about NAHB’s vaccination efforts, please contact Rob Matuga.