The CDC has recently recommended that employers appoint “vaccination ambassadors” to encourage employees to get vaccinated. The EEOC has not commented on the CDC’s recommendation, but based on other pandemic-related guidance issued by the EEOC, employers should consider the employment risks associated with a vaccination ambassador. These risks include the following:
- Vaccination ambassadors are also employees and are being encouraged by the CDC to share their vaccination experiences with other employees, who may be reluctant to get vaccinated. This is problematic for many reasons. Employers should not be requiring any employee to disclose anything about their own medical condition, and discussions about vaccines could end up in that territory. It’s one thing to say that the “shot doesn’t hurt,” but it’s another thing to get into concerns based on preexisting medical conditions (or religious beliefs), which may be the reason any given employee is not being vaccinated
- Employees may ask the vaccination ambassador about the effect of the vaccine on their own medical conditions or concerns. Unless the ambassador is a physician (and even then, it’s probably not a good idea), the ambassador should not be opining on side-effects or other consequences of taking the vaccine.
Other steps that the CDC is suggesting employers take to encourage vaccination make sense and do not present the same level of risk for employers. For example, considering providing paid time off to employees to get vaccinated is probably a good idea, and generally it’s legal and appropriate to request a copy of a vaccination “receipt.” Proof of vaccination must be treated like any other medical record – stored in a secure location separately from the employee’s file.
If appointing a vaccine ambassador is something your organization is considering, it’s critical that you address it with employment counsel to make sure that the proposed vaccination ambassador receives the right training, is familiar with health privacy issues, and understands federal and state laws governing disability and religious discrimination (including reasonable accommodations) to minimize the risks to your organization. Employment counsel can also discuss alternatives to appointing a vaccine ambassador with you.