Vaccines & the Return to the Workplace: You Asked, We Answered

In late March 2021, three CBIZ experts shared their thoughts and perspectives on current COVID-19 vaccines and their effect on return-to-the-work plans for employers. Below are the top 10 questions and answers from that webinar and are designed to provide insights to many of the questions posed to our speakers.

1. Do we know how long insurance companies will cover the COVID-19 testing?

Currently, health plans must cover in-network and out-of-network testing for the duration of the public emergency. The public emergency is currently scheduled to continue through April 20, 2021 and can be renewed in 90-day increments indefinitely. Expectations predict the public emergency will continue through 2021. Some insured health plans may have provisions that are more generous than the minimum requirement. 

2. Is offering COVID-19 vaccine any different than providing the flu vaccine if both are voluntary?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act requires that a COVID-19 vaccine must be covered as a preventive service in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. The vaccine’s preventative coverage is effective within 15 business days of being deemed preventive. Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines have been considered preventive and must be provided by the insurance plan at no cost to the participant.

3. If an employer does not mandate vaccines, can there be different office protocols for vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees? Can employers mandate that unvaccinated employees wear a face mask?

This situation is comparable to enforcing the utilization of PPE (personal protective equipment). Employers will want to ensure any policy is in writing and is enforced universally. No exceptions can be made as it is very important not to discriminate between employees.

4. Is a list available of states where workers’ compensation is compensable?

Several online resources list state specific compensable terms. Unfortunately, many are only updated annually. Each state addresses workers’ compensation and the information can be found through a simple web search for your state. Be aware workers’ compensation is constantly changing and can be altered through an executive order.

5. How do employers encourage staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine? How do employers work with staff who choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Employers should provide a written statement that the organization encourages employees to get vaccinated. Include in the policy that unvaccinated employees may be required to wear masks and remain in separate areas. A recommended policy would be to require all unvaccinated employees to wear masks.

6. Would a financial incentive or gift card for voluntary vaccination be considered a bonus? Does the amount of the incentive matter?

An incentive, whether bonus or gift card, is taxable. Generally, there is no de minimis exception for cash-based incentives. A small token such as a t-shirt or mug may be provided without taxation.

7. Can anyone other than human resources know who has been vaccinated?

It is a best practice to ensure that all vaccine information be maintained in a confidential human resources file separate from general files. The information should not be shared other than for a need-to-know or business necessity reason. Additional rules such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) may apply if the vaccine program is part of a health plan.

8. Where can we find the definition of "eligible employer" for the tax credits?

The definition of entities subject to the Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) subsidy is available in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Sec. 9501. The definition of employers eligible for the emergency leave tax credit is available in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Sec. 9641.

9. Please provide clarification on involuntary terminations under the American Rescue Plan Act’s COBRA premium subsidy. Would this include terminations for violations of company policy?

Generally COBRA is not available to persons terminated due to gross misconduct. This type of termination is not defined by COBRA. Gross misconduct is recognized within the Public Health Service Act, but is a difficult standard to reach. If COBRA is not available, the subsidy is not obtainable. Additional guidance is needed on the definition of involuntary termination. The law does not appear to require that the involuntary termination be COVID-19 related.

10.  Are the American Rescue Plan Act emergency leave and COBRA subsidy tax credits for all employers?

The emergency leave tax credit applies to employers with less than 500 employees. Public sector entities were subject to the mandate to provide emergency leave but were not previously entitled to the tax credit. The American Rescue Plan Act, Sec. 9641 appears to extend the tax credit to state and local government entities effective April 1, 2021. Currently, no additional guidance has been issued on this provision. The COBRA subsidy applies to public, private, for-profit and nonprofit entities of all sizes.

While creating a COVID-19 vaccine policy for your organization may feel overwhelming, consider using this checklist to help ensure that your business and employees are prepared for a safe and successful return to work.

You don’t need to go at it alone, our experts are here to help. Our professionals can help you determine appropriate actions to address employee concerns and help review your employee practices to ensure a smooth return. To learn more, contact your local risk and insurance professional or a member of our team today.

The information contained above is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. CBIZ Insurance Services, Inc. (“CBIZ”) does not make any warranties of any kind about the completeness or accuracy of this information. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice. Any action you take upon the information in these materials is strictly at your own risk.

Vaccines & the Return to the Workplace: You Asked, We Answered late March 2021, three CBIZ experts shared their thoughts and perspectives on current COVID-19 vaccines and their effect on return-to-the-work plans for employers.Risk MitigationProperty & Casualty InsuranceCOVID-19Yes