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What practice owners need to know about implementing a COVID-19 vaccine policy in the dental office

Vaccine tracking considerations to maintain confidentiality and minimize discrimination risks

January 19, 2021 8709

Quick Summary:

The EEOC issued guidance indicating that employers may encourage or possibly require COVID-19 vaccinations under certain circumstances. Rather than implementing mandates, CDA Practice Support is advising practice owners to focus on taking steps that encourage team members to get vaccinated.

As California moves toward easing COVID-19 restrictions for people who are fully vaccinated, dental practice owners may find themselves documenting and tracking their employees’ vaccination status to comply with laws and to better align their workplace policies with rapidly changing restrictions and regulations.

Practice owners are permitted to ask about an employee’s vaccination status but should refrain from asking follow-up questions about why an employee did not receive a vaccination. Such inquiries can prompt the employee to disclose disability-related information that could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

All vaccination questions should be job related and consistent with business necessity. Practice owners can ask to see an employee’s vaccination card but should warn the employee not to provide any medical information as part of the proof.

An employee’s vaccination status should not be shared with any dental team members or patients.

Considerations for vaccine mandates in the dental office

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last December issued guidance indicating that employers may possibly require COVID-19 vaccinations, but policies must comply with the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If a practice owner chooses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines in the dental practice, exceptions must be made for employees who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability, medical complications, pregnancy or sincerely held religious beliefs.

In this case, practice owners must provide reasonable accommodations, such as allowing the employee to work remotely or take a leave of absence. Should an employee experience health complications after receiving the vaccine, this would likely be considered a workplace injury under workers’ compensation.

Focus on educating and encouraging employees to get vaccinated

Requiring employees to get vaccinated can lead to difficult decisions and possible legal implications. Rather than implementing mandates, CDA Practice Support is advising practice owners to focus on taking steps that encourage team members to get vaccinated.

To motivate team members to get vaccinated, practice owners could:

  • Develop vaccination education campaigns
  • Make obtaining the vaccine as easy as possible for employees
  • Cover any costs that might be associated with getting the vaccine
  • Provide a small incentive to employees who get vaccinated
  • Provide paid time off for employees to get the vaccine and recover from any potential side effects

All practices and programs concerning COVID-19 vaccines should be implemented fairly and consistently throughout the dental office. If a practice owner chooses not to mandate a vaccine policy in the dental office, they cannot require a new hire to get vaccinated.

Minimizing workplace harassment

Practice owners should be mindful of not creating or allowing a hostile atmosphere that isolates employees who cannot or choose not to be vaccinated. Treating an employee differently because of their vaccination status could put an employer at risk for a discrimination claim.

As a reminder, an employee’s vaccination status should be strictly confidential and should not be used to make employment decisions.

Maintain best safety practices in the dental office

Cal/OSHA has not yet updated its COVID-19 prevention regulations for fully vaccinated dental team members. As for now, dental practices should continue complying with Cal/OSHA regulations that require all dental team members to wear face coverings and practice social distancing when in the dental office. Additionally, respirators are still required in areas where aerosol-generating procedures are being performed.

A fully vaccinated staff in a dental office does not completely reduce the practice owner’s liability or obligations to maintain workplace safety standards.

Dental staff should continue to:

  • Screen patients for COVID-19 prior to providing treatment
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wear adequate PPE
  • Wash hands often
  • Disinfect and sanitize frequently touched objects and surfaces

Practice owners can find answers to the most frequently asked questions about employee vaccinations, vaccine polices and employer mandates in the CDA Vaccine Toolkit. CDA will keep member dentists and their teams updated on the latest information in the COVID-19 Resource Center and CDA Newsroom.