After a very difficult 2020, rapid vaccine development has sparked optimism among the public and in the business community. But as we wrote last week, there’s a long road ahead while infections remain high. Today we look at considerations for a new transition period – vaccines becoming more widely available, but before the country achieves herd immunity.

Businesses across the country are facing challenges, including lawsuits, as they grapple with how COVID-19 has impacted their operations, work forces, and supply chains. The wave of litigation is rising, and it appears that no industry is immune. Schiff Hardin’s Coronavirus Task Force is publishing this series to identify of-the-moment issues and potential liabilities facing businesses as they begin to re-open, transform their processes, and face the new reality.
  • Anticipate that certain individuals may not comply with COVID policies as vaccinations increase. Retail businesses, medical offices, and other companies with a high number of in-person customers and clients may want to consider policy changes to anticipate decreased compliance with mask and social distancing requirements among those who have been vaccinated and as vaccination rates rise generally. Medical experts have not yet determined whether vaccinated people can nonetheless be disease transmitters. As we wrote last year, businesses should consider developing plans to communicate policies clearly to employees and customers. Companies may not be able to avoid customers who do not follow policies, but clear, consistent communication can help to increase adherence. Businesses should also consider what’s happening in their communities, potentially revisiting policies, adjusting how they communicate those policies, and training employees on how to enforce them.
  • Track vaccination programs as eligibility expands. State governments have begun to permit some essential workers or all people over a certain age to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. As eligibility expands, businesses may want to consider staying apprised of vaccination rates in their area and across the nation as they determine how and when to bring workers back to offices or adjust procedures for workers who have worked in-person throughout the pandemic. Among helpful sources are public health advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other government bodies.
  • Consider policies that encourage vaccination. Some members of the public and employees, even frontline medical workers, remain hesitant to be vaccinated. Short of requiring employees to be vaccinated, employers can consider implementing vaccine educational programs, sharing fact-based information with workers, with an eye to various health-related privacy concerns.
  • Prepare for more in-person work to resume later in the year. Optimism about the vaccine has soared, but companies must understand that it will take some time to reach herd immunity. Certain workplaces may want to consider planning for both short-term and long-term changes to work environments. Employers in some industries may wish to implement more generous work-from-home policies in the future, both because employees have become accustomed to the flexibility and certain employers have found that productivity can remain high. Businesses that more fully return to in-person work may want to consider how they may need to transform physical workspaces or adjust worker interaction with customers or visitors. Health guidance from the CDC, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is being frequently updated.

Some changes implemented during the pandemic may change the customer and worker experience forever. But before returning to “normal,” companies may wish to consider additional strategies in light of vaccine rollouts.