The demand for COVID-19 shots has stalled in the U.S., prompting some employers to implement mandates to get their staff fully vaccinated.
However, experts warn that under such mandates, injuries or illnesses reported by employees from the vaccine can lead to workers compensation claims and recordable incidents on Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs.
After first leaving the decision up to employees and offering them an incentive, the Houston Methodist hospital system recently said it would require its 26,000 employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be subject to suspension and/or termination. The Medical University of South Carolina implemented a similar mandate.
“I have spoken to countless hospital leaders across the country who plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination soon,” said Dr. Marc Boom, Houston Methodist’s president and CEO, in an email to all employees dated April 23 that was forwarded by a spokeswoman to Business Insurance. Dr. Boom also said he expects nearby Memorial Hermann Health System and Baylor College of Medicine to issue their own coronavirus vaccination mandates. A former registered nurse at Houston Methodist recently went public with her decision to leave her job rather than get the vaccine.
Many employers had been wary of forcing vaccinations, given the potential for side effects and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccines only on an emergency use basis.
Other countries, too, are implementing vaccination mandates for health care workers. On April 1, Italy approved an emergency decree that all health professionals must be vaccinated for the coronavirus. Those who refused had the option to be transferred to non-patient-facing duties or be suspended without pay for up to a year, according to the British Medical Journal.
“For us to optimize patient safety, we must have higher vaccination rates across MUSC Health,” a spokeswoman for the hospital said in an email. “Large numbers of patients are not coming to health care facilities because of our care team members’ lower vaccination rates. … After much deliberation, MUSC Health has decided to make it an expectation that all care team members be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Third-party administrator CorVel Corp., which includes among its clients a number of hospital systems and medical centers, has seen several move to a mandatory policy after fewer employees than anticipated opted to be vaccinated, said Michele Tucker, Sacramento, California-based vice president of enterprise operations at CorVel.
CorVel has seen some vaccine-related workers comp claims in the past month as a result of the mandates, but they’re “very small, not expensive and not significant,” Ms. Tucker said. “If there is a significant reaction, it’s likely to be work-related. It’s certainly not worse than a COVID claim at this point.”
Along with the potential for workers comp claims, employers that shift to mandatory vaccinations need to be aware that reactions that require medical treatment or a day off of work may be recordable on their OSHA logs, said Brent Clark, partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
“If I’m going to go to the step of mandating the vaccine, then I’m going to own the reasonably foreseeable consequences that individuals may suffer or may result from that vaccination,” he said. “This is sort of a new application of long-standing OSHA principles.”
Serious vaccine-related injuries or illnesses should be recorded on OSHA logs, Mr. Clark said, and vaccine reactions that prevent a worker from performing their regular work activities also need to be recorded.
“The inability to do all of your routine work activities … would result in a restricted workday,” he said. “That goes on the log … if it’s causally related to the vaccine.”
This article was first published in Business Insurance.