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Developing vaccine policies for deskless workforces

By Steve Tonks, Senior Vice President EMEA at WorkForce Software

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Steve Tonks on vaccines for deskless workforces

During the most recent wave of Covid cases, some of the largest brands in the UK, including Next, Ikea and Ocado, made the decision to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who were self-isolating.

This move by employers to ‘encourage’ staff to take the Covid vaccine follows a year of debate over mandatory vaccination, particularly in frontline sectors like health and social care.

While the government has announced a withdrawal of mandatory vaccinations, organisations are continuing to consider their stance.

The health and safety implications of unvaccinated colleagues in the workplace, not to mention the costs associated with unvaccinated employees falling sick with the virus, make a strong case for employers to demand mandatory jabs.

However, this must be balanced with other rights and responsibilities.

Many employees will likely have legitimate questions over their individual freedoms – this, coupled with potential claims of discrimination, makes mandatory vaccination a very risky approach to take.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD):

“The Government’s reversal of the legal requirement for vaccination in the health, and social care and care home sectors arguably makes it harder for employers in other sectors to justify mandatory vaccination.

“However, vaccination is still strongly advised as a matter of individual professional responsibility…The wisest approach for employers is to encourage staff to be vaccinated and boosted and publicise the benefits to improve take-up of the vaccine.”

Business leaders must strike a balance between educating and advocating for the health and safety of their staff with maintaining an inclusive culture.

Providing employees with an ultimatum is not desirable. Instead, employers should actively encourage vaccination while working with employees to ensure safe working practices.

Connected strategies to manage risk 

While mandatory vaccination is no longer a legal requirement, all employers, no matter the industry, have a duty to identify and mitigate the risk of coronavirus.

For example, many organisations will continue increased sanitation practices or the use of PPE, particularly those in public service roles.

However, when it comes to both the organisational and individual risk of unvaccinated employees, mitigation becomes increasingly challenging.

Some employers may be happy for employees to continue remote or hybrid working practices, thereby reducing contact between vaccinated and unvaccinated coworkers. However, this is only suitable for a minority of the working population.

What about deskless workers? Many employees cannot work from home, especially in core industries like hospitality, retail, healthcare and construction.

For any employer, but especially for those with dispersed, deskless workforces, the foundation of coronavirus risk management is information.

For example, employers may wish to mandate regular Covid testing and reporting to help manage risk.

Reports, results and responses need to be carefully tracked, quickly and efficiently analysed, and followed by automated actions, with this sensitive information stored securely.

Employers will also need the capabilities to quickly identify who and who isn’t vaccinated, as well as to measure whether employees’ booster jabs are up to date.

This will help organisations to develop safe working practices, especially when considering vulnerable workers such as those who are pregnant or have underlying health conditions.

In this case, employers may want to consider which colleagues should and shouldn’t be deployed in close proximity.

Compliance, communication and automation 

Similarly, employers must take their responsibility of advocating for vaccinations seriously, with such information vital for accurate and consistent communications to existing employees.

For a small business, this information management may seem like a simple spreadsheet task. However, for larger companies, especially those with a dispersed workforce, this can prove to be a mammoth task.

Fortunately, companies can harness automated technologies to remove this onerous, admin-heavy burden from HR teams, while ensuring compliance.

For example, using intelligent workforce management tools, employers can easily automate the process of pre-shift health screenings, which can also be adapted to manage and monitor vaccination status or test results for all employees.

Automated workforce technologies will also help companies to provide their teams with the latest, most accurate information. This should be accessible from their smartphones, making it easier for companies to quickly adapt to changing mandates.

Additionally, such technologies should be capable of performing regular HR tasks, like clocking into work, so companies can analyse this data beyond general shift tracking.

As with any change, providing employees with a full understanding of why new technology is being implemented and how they will benefit from new safety practices, is the best way to help reluctant team members to adopt new tools in the workplace.

Arming employees with knowledge of how tech can assist them will further demonstrate that the business is seeking innovative solutions to help workers navigate new working practices to begin ‘living’ with Covid.

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