How to ask someone at work if they are vaccinated

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As businesses begin to navigate a return to the office, it’s natural for people to wonder if their employees, colleagues, and customers have been vaccinated. Some employers remove the uncertainty by requiring the vaccine for their employees, but others do not.

If you are considering bringing up the subject, your first question might be: is it even legal to ask?

Yes, says Sahara Pynes, a labor and employment lawyer in the Fox Rothschild offices in Los Angeles and New York. “Asking someone if they’re vaccinated is generally not HIPAA protected unless you ask a doctor or health care provider to disclose someone’s vaccination status,” she says. “There is a lot of misinformation about HIPAA and its application, but it does not apply [here.]”

How you ask, however, is not that simple. It will depend on the person and your goal.

How to ask employees

Business owners are allowed to ask employees for their immunization status either by requesting a copy of their immunization card or by means of a self-certificate of immunization, Pynes explains.

“The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission directives require that this information be kept confidential. So I recommend that HR or a designated senior manager keep all records, rather than having more extensive knowledge of everyone’s immunization status, ”she says.

Peter Cappelli, professor of management at Wharton School, says it’s not a good idea to instruct supervisors to ask. “You have to be careful with some things, and unless a supervisor is trained, he can easily mess things up,” he says. “It’s best if HR makes the request. Once you get the information, there are obligations associated with it, such as OSHA registration requirements. “

Pynes agrees that managers should not ask follow-up questions about why employees may not be vaccinated unless they are trained to provide accommodations for people with disabilities and religious, which are two recognized exemptions to compulsory vaccinations.

How to ask colleagues

If you want to ask colleagues because you have a pre-existing condition or immunodeficiency, a better approach may be to go to management or HR, says Pynes.

“You need to notify them of the condition and request an accommodation, which may include working in a private office, working remotely or other physical partitions or partitions,” she says.

If you plan to ask your coworker directly, Pynes suggests saying something like, “I’ve been pretty confined and cautious, especially since the last wave. Would you mind sharing if you are vaccinated, so I can continue to take precautions? “

“Basically make it a health and safety concern, rather than a political judgment or statement,” she says.

Cappelli suggests sharing your status first. “It’s not like asking, ‘How do you feel about the Eagles’ chances this season?’ He said. “This is a question that you are going to act on, which impacts the person giving you the information.”

Starting a conversation is a better way to get people talking. “Instead of saying, ‘What are you thinking [getting] vaccinated?’ you could say, ‘You know, I was vaccinated very early on’ and hope that they’ll react and tell you what’s going on with them, which is the social norm for most people, ‘says Cappelli.

How to ask customers

The information you can find depends on your location. While most states allow companies to ask customers for their immunization status, a few, including Florida and Texas, prohibit such surveys, Pynes explains.

Alternatively, businesses located in New York are permitted to require customers to present proof of vaccination. And Pynes says California businesses should be aware that California Unruh Civil Rights Law may require publicly accessible businesses to accommodate customers with disabilities or with religious beliefs that prevent vaccination.

“I recommend putting a sign outside the store if businesses require customers to get vaccinated,” she says. “We’ve heard from many business owners that customers have yelled at, harassed and berated their employees for asking customers to wear masks, so outside notice can be the first line of defense, given that the mask and vaccine mandates are very busy topics. . “

Pynes says employees can warmly welcome customers, adding something like, “Thank you very much for shopping with us today, just want to confirm that you are vaccinated, in accordance with our store policy and to ensure safety. of our community. “

What to do with the information

Once you have the information, know what to do with it. Elaine Varelas, managing partner at career management and leadership development firm Keystone Partners, suggests preparing for alternatives if the person is not vaccinated.

“One way to professionally ask this would be, ‘I see we’re scheduled for a face-to-face meeting and I want to keep both of us safe. “I have been vaccinated and I am comfortable meeting outdoors without a mask, indoors with masks or whatever variant suits you,” she suggests. “Whether it’s a conversation with an employee, customer or colleague, it should be respectful and based on protecting your own health and that of those around you. “

If someone is not vaccinated by choice, only HR or a legal position should question their status, Varelas adds. “Instead, you can say, ‘I’m not comfortable meeting face to face and we can have a Zoom meeting instead, if that works for you. “

Ruth Pearce, founder of In It Together, a strength-based coaching firm, says the most important step is to be kind. “I made the decision to get vaccinated and I think it’s the right thing to do, but I also don’t think it’s anyone’s business if I’ve been vaccinated,” she says. “What is appropriate is to take the appropriate precautions.” For example, companies may require masks to be worn or allow employees to continue working remotely.

Organizations should focus on the safety of employees and customers, says Pearce. “Next, create a menu of options, one of which can be [getting] vaccinated or tested regularly, ”she says.

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