Asking prospective employees about their vaccination status can be awkward–and possibly lead to legally sticky situations. Some prospective employees will appreciate it if your company is mandating Covid-19 vaccinations. While surgical-grade facemasks have proven somewhat effective at preventing the spread of Covid-19, a vaccine is currently the only true way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.
Others are less convinced. And if your company is in a hiring bind, as many are these days, you might need to codify and justify your safety policies. Here’s a primer on how to hire with a vaccine mandate in place.
Nicolas Holand–founder of GooseSmurfs, a gaming company based in Indianapolis–has needed to hire nine new workers since July, when he added the vaccine to his company’s job requirements. He wants to avoid compromising the safety of his existing 46 employees.
“We also emphasize that this is a good thing for the candidates who may soon work in the workplace,” says Holand, noting that employees who are vaccinated are at a lower risk of contracting Covid-19 than those who remain unvaccinated. “They are more protected and resistant to any potential infection of Covid and therefore their workdays won’t be affected,” he adds.
While Holand says that so far, all of the candidates he’s hired has agreed to GooseSmurfs’s vaccination policy and most of them already had their full dose. The founder suspects he’s had a smoother time with the process because the company has been transparent and direct with its requirements on the job post itself. He says most candidates who were hesitant about the mandate likely didn’t apply. “Overall, being straightforward about the policy made the hiring process easier and seamless,” he says.
Make the vaccine a condition of employment.
When people take a job, they do so with an understanding of a job’s requirements. As an employer, you don’t want to violate that contractual agreement because it could lead to turnover. That’s why it’s crucial to outline any vaccine policies with candidates before they accept the position, says John Hooker, professor of business ethics and social responsibility at Carnegie Mellon University.
Additionally, if you have a policy in which some workers are required to be vaccinated, such as those in the office, and others are not, that rationale should be clear upfront. “It’s critical to have these kind of [policies] run across the entire company, as opposed to allowing them for some people and not for others,” says Hooker.
And if you do require a vaccine for some and not others, Hooker suggests making your reasoning known: “There must be a reason for that distinction and it shouldn’t be arbitrary.” Employees are less likely to push back on policies when they understand the rationale behind them, he says.
Don’t ask about a prospective worker’s vaccination status.
If you have a mandate in place, you likely want to know whether you will have to accommodate a new employee who isn’t vaccinated. While it’s fine to ask about a person’s vaccination status, you can’t make your hiring decision based on that person’s status alone. If a candidate is turned down for a job, and is told it is because he or she won’t receive the vaccine, they can file a discrimination lawsuit.
It is illegal both under federal and state laws to discriminate against an employee based on his or her medical condition with regard to employment decisions. It is, however, difficult for applicants to prove that a company didn’t hire them because of a health condition, says Jared Pope, HR law specialist CEO of Work Shield, a Dallas-based HR software company.
If you do decide to pass on candidates after having a conversation about their vaccination status, be cordial. Thank them for applying and let them know that you’ll keep them in mind should a position open up that would be a better fit.
An even better idea? Don’t ask at all. Talk about the company’s policy regarding vaccines during the interview process. Let the candidate know if any exceptions can be made if they choose to move forward. “Questions about the workplace can be asked and answered in an interview, and are not discriminatory or illegal in nature,” says Pope. Down the line, you can require proof of vaccination, he adds.