The U.S. federal government vaccine mandate is rolling out soon, according to industry experts. That means private companies with 100 or more employees will either have to require employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or produce a weekly negative COVID-19 test.

And like most digital workplace efforts, it’s going to take clear communication and sound technology practices for vaccine and testing program management.

“Be clear this is about ensuring everyone’s health and safety and that protecting your team, their families, and your customers is your No. 1 priority,” said Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, a New York City-based public relations firm.

What You Need to Know About President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

Here’s the skinny on the soon-to-be rolled out mandate:

Who: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

What: OSHA is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.

Why: The Biden Administration rolled out the pending requirements in September as part of its “Path Out of the Pandemic” plan.

What’s next: OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement this requirement.

When: Employment law firm Fisher Phillips last week issued a timeline related to OSHA and the White House’s rollout of the vaccination mandate. Keep in mind this is only guesswork but nonetheless a guide for potential milestone dates in this vaccine mandate rollout:

  • White House review and approval of the ETS: between Oct. 12 - 15 (OSHA did confirm the ETS was sent to the White House for review Oct. 12). 
  • OSHA publishes the ETS and makes it available to the public: between Oct. 18 - 20.
  • OSHA publishes the ETS in the Federal Register (making it official): approximately Oct. 27.
  • State OSHA plans will have 15 days to announce the adoption of the ETS or announce an alternative: approximately Nov. 10.
  • State OSHA plans have another 15 days to make the ETS (or their own alternative) effective: approximately Nov. 25.
  • Enforcement begins after expected grace period for compliance lapses: approximately Dec. 1.
  • State OSHA plan enforcement begins: approximately Jan. 1, 2022.

Related Article: A Hybrid Workplace Plan That Includes Every Employee

HRIS Does the Tracking Trick

Meanwhile, some organizations have already rolled out a vaccine mandate on their own. Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, a non-profit food bank and a member of the Feeding America network, is one of them. The Orlando-based food bank has about 150 employees serving six counties. It includes four physical sites: two in Orlando, one in Daytona Beach and one in Melbourne.

Given its size, it would be on the hook for compliance with the forthcoming U.S. vaccine mandate but already has a process in place. Amy Lein, chief human resources officer at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, said management of vaccination status, ongoing testing and any other accommodations are handled by the human resources department.

The company’s human resource information system (HRIS) is used to upload each employee's vaccination status, and a spreadsheet is kept with a record of vaccination dates in anticipation of the necessity of tracking boosters or subsequent data. “All information is stored confidentially, similar to any medical information for an employee,” Lein said.

Like many non-profits, Second Harvest also works with an army of volunteers, numbering in the thousands over the course of a year. They're tracking volunteers' vaccination status, as well.

Learning Opportunities

“We are visually confirming vaccination status for volunteers and noting it in our volunteer database in anticipation for future use,” Lein said. “With the current spread of COVID and the Delta variant, we are requiring masks for everyone but anticipate that will change eventually.”

Setting Up Testing Sites

For the employees who request and receive accommodation under a religious exemption, weekly testing will be required, according to Lein. The company is setting up a relationship with nearby testing sites to receive rapid results so that the employee can test during working hours and easily provide the results to the HR department.

“This work continues to evolve and we adjust as quickly as needed,” Lein said. “To this point, we have not added new technology to handle the data. With 150 employees at this time and an 82% fully vaccinated rate, we have a handful of people finishing their second dose and another small group engaged in the interactive process after having requested an accommodation.”

Related Article: Keeping Humanity at the Center of Technology

Technology Considerations for Vaccine Management

What do practitioners need to know about technology considerations in this arena? Multiple vendors have jumped on the vaccine mandate train so there is a lot of noise. Software Advice has a list of vaccination management systems.

Leslie Tarnacki, general manager and senior vice president of human resources at one of the vendors, WorkForce Software, said technology will continue to be essential to supporting the additional protocols that need to be implemented to ensure compliance with vaccine mandates and assure the safety of employees as they return to the office. Solutions, she said, can adapt to support verification of workers’ vaccination status and can be configured to prompt employees ahead of shifts for health questionnaires to help HR teams ensure that staff are safe and complying with mandates. 

Workforce Software isn’t the only tech company with a system to manage this initiative. ReturnSafe, for instance, a workplace solution for infectious disease management, has seen a 76% increase in inbound inquiries, the majority of these from organizations with 1,000-plus employees, according to company officials. The company’s product features tracking of vaccine status and testing results, health screenings and positive COVID-19 case management.

Communications Is Just As Important as Technology

Technology is only as good as the communication process and general ability to be understanding around the vaccine mandate, however. Make it as easy as possible for workers to get vaccinated, Yaverbaum said. Provide paid time off, offer transportation or even make the vaccine accessible at work, and allow additional sick days for those who get the vaccine in case they feel unwell from the potential side effects.

“Help employees to focus on the positives of getting vaccinated,” Yaverbaum said. “What would they be able to do comfortably because of the protection the vaccine provides? Stay focused on the positives and the fact that the vaccine is what will allow us to ‘return to normal’ and be able to enjoy all of the things that we’ve had to give up during the pandemic.”