Employers ready return-to-work plans as vaccinations ramp up

BOSTON — Many people have spent the last year working from home, but as more COVID-19 vaccines get into people’s arms, employers are preparing to bring back staff to the workplace.

“I think employers, from what I’m seeing, they’re not in any rush. They want to do it delicately,” said Eva Sadej, the CEO of Medbar, a group that is helping employers plan and implement strategies to safely bring people back to the office.

She says employers should have a plan that includes regular testing and a good understanding of employee vaccine rates.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an “employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before initially permitting them to enter the workplace.” The EEOC also says employers can require workers to get a coronavirus vaccine under most circumstances.

“If you know the vaccine rates, publish them. If you think they should be higher, say, ‘Hey, you guys aren’t getting your vaccine. We’re at, you know, 20%. Can we get that up?’ and perhaps have some kind of incentive structure or little competition amongst teams for max vaccination rates,” Sadej said.

More than 20% of the state’s population has received at least one COVID shot. That, according to Dr. Richard Ellison, an epidemiologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, is good news for returning to work but there is more work to be done.

“As we get more and more of the population vaccines, that’s going to make the work environment safer. We’re still going to be cautious, but it’s going to become a safer environment,” said Dr. Ellison, adding that it may be next winter before there is enough herd or general immunity from the coronavirus.

For more on the role the vaccine will play in getting Massachusetts back to work safely, tune in to 25 Investigates: A Year after the Shutdown, Friday at 10:30 p.m.

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