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What do COVID-19 vaccines mean for the workplace? Forrester reports

By Catherine Knowles
Thu 25 Mar 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

As COVID-19 vaccine deployment and mass vaccination programs get underway, employers are at a new decision point: how to accelerate the ‘back to normal’ without overstepping their bounds, states research and advisory firm Forrester.

In its new report, 'The Opportunity, The Unknowns, And The Risks Of Vaccine Passports In The Workplace', Forrester identifies several risks that employers must address if deploying vaccine passports - a digital document that provides evidence of an individual’s immunisation status - to inform their return-to-work strategies.

According to Forrester, many employees around the world are ready to return to the office, requiring employers to prepare for an array of new privacy, ethical, legal, and compliance challenges as they plan to leverage vaccine and immunisation passports to return employees to the workplace.

From doubts about vaccines’ effectiveness to significant country-by-country variation in administration priorities, employers need to be cautious as they define their pandemic management plans.

Risk exposure includes sensitive data mishandling, discrimination, labor union mobilisation, diminished cybersecurity, and negative impact on the customer experience.

Key highlights from the reports includes the following:

Vaccines are not a silver bullet: Factors ranging from global vaccine strategies to early-stage understanding of the virus, its variants, and efficacy of the vaccine mean employers must plan to continue anywhere-work policies and hybrid experiences to balance convenience with well-being, according to Forrester.

Avoid the privacy and ethical pitfalls of a 'no jab, no job' policy: Many employees are ready to return to the office, but asking employees to carry proof of inoculation with them to enter the workplace introduces privacy and ethics risks, the analysts state.

Follow principles of proportionality, fairness, and transparency: Employers should collect only the minimum amount of data needed to trigger specific policies. They should encrypt medical data and enforce strict access, sharing, and deletion policies to ensure fairness and protection, Forrester states.

Employers must navigate compliance and legal risks: In the US, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed that employers can make the vaccine mandatory for employees, but several state legislatures have challenged the legality of such a requirement. Every country has its own approach.

Be mindful of customer experience and perceptions: Relaxing protocols for distancing, sanitisation, and mask wearing in customer-facing interactions risks a negative impact on how customers perceive a brand and their willingness to do business with the organisation, according to the analysts.

Forrester senior analyst Enza Iannopollo says, “While COVID-19 is loosening its grip, it’s not going away.

“Vaccine passports don’t offer the silver-bullet solution that many might hope for easing pandemic protocols and restrictions, and businesses should be planning for life with COVID in the medium to long term.

"Our overarching message to organisations everywhere is one of caution. With the right planning and consideration, the return to work will be smoother and more successful for all involved.”

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