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The Case of Vaccination or Unemployment

What are the implications for the team and for future hiring?

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As the staff of Lakeview Eye Care were exiting the monthly staff meeting, the owner, Dr. Karla Vitara, said to office manager Ashley, “Don’t take off just yet, there is something else we need to chat about.”

Ashley unassumingly sat back down. “What’cha got?”

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carissa Dunphy has been working in private practice optometry since 2008 and is the founder of Optician Now (opticiannow.com). Follow Carissa on Instagram and Facebook at @opticiannow.

“I’ll start a little ways back so this can be put into context a bit,” Dr. Vitara began. “A month or so ago at the Chamber of Commerce meeting I was talking with Dr. Cook. I’m not sure if you know this but he had a private equity company purchase his practice, which seemed to be a smooth transition. Anyhow, now that they are owned by a big corporate practice, Dr. Cook’s office follows corporate rules and the new policy is that all employees must be vaccinated for COVID by some set date.”

“Oh wow! That is a lot of changes, but having the vaccine required seems like a big one!” Ashley exclaimed.

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Dr. Vitara continued, “Well I’m hoping we can learn from their experience because now that the vaccination was granted full FDA approval, the governor has mandated vaccinations for all healthcare workers in our state.”

Ashley took a deep breath. “Perhaps we can get ahead of the curve here by knowing how Dr. Cook handled this. What did he do? What was the outcome with their office?”

“They have around a dozen employees. A few were already vaccinated, a few got vaccinated to meet the requirement, and when the time came, three were let go because they chose to not get the vaccine. I’m guessing we will have a similar outcome here,” Dr. Vitara concluded.

“Well this sucks. We just filled the front desk position and have been trying to fill the tech position for over a month and now we may lose more staff?! I have not been vaccinated yet but have no problem getting it,” Ashley said. “What is the deadline to meet the requirement and what sort of information can we provide to the staff? Because there will be questions…”

“The state has created a very informative 10-page document with a lot of Q&As,” Dr. Vitara explained. “I’ll email you the document and you can take it from there. To meet the deadline the staff members would need to get their first vaccine in the next two weeks, assuming they are getting the two-shot option. If I keep an unvaccinated employee without exemptions, I will be charged with a misdemeanor! I did see that there is a religious exemption … perhaps you could recommend that route if someone is hesitant to get the vaccine?”

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As she got up to get to work, Ashley departed with: “I’ll take a look at the document and get to work updating the staff about the new mandate and getting proof of vaccinations…” But she knew this would be a tricky task to navigate and began to troubleshoot the staff’s questions in her mind.

After you read how ECPs weigh in on this topic, be sure to click here and learn about how to handle vaccine mandates in your business.

The Big Questions

  • The owner suggested possibly using a religious exemption to keep unvaccinated staff. Is that a potential solution?
  • What effect could it have on the staff continuing to smoothly work together as a team with their varying opinions on vaccinations and possible religious exemption loopholes?
  • Hiring has already been difficult and this adds a layer of complication. What could be a plan of attack on hiring additional team member(s) should the need arise?
Richard S.
Los Angeles, CA

The doctor should comply with the mandate and terminate all who won’t get the vaccine. We can’t spend any more time spreading this virus, which we know is killing millions throughout the world. The doctor should not start lying for his staff by suggesting they have religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the vaccine. It not only sends a terrible message to the staff but puts him in jeopardy of falsifying reports which will perhaps get him into legal trouble. This is not how we end this pandemic. We need to stop giving a free pass to the ill-informed and should get them to read the facts and do our best to educate them. It is now FDA approved; do the right thing. At the end of the day, vaccine or you’re fired. Staff who are vaccinated will have to pick up the extra slack and be rewarded financially for their team spirit and hard work until the office is able to fill the positions he needs to fill.

Ashley M.
Canby, OR

As I have told my staff in this exact situation, although I believe vaccinations are our only way out of this COVID mess, I also believe in choice. I have educated and almost begged my employees to get the vaccine and some still chose not to. I would have never mandated it in my office on my own, but it is out of my hands now. I am not willing to risk my practice or my license by not enforcing the mandates. There are medical and religious exemptions and if an employee presents one I will take it for what it is, keep it in their file, and move on.

Sheldon K.
Lauderhill, FL

Advertising this requirement and ensuring a safe work environment can certainly be a recruiting incentive and actually help them with their current problem to attract more applicants. As the bulk of existing employees have already been vaccinated or are willing to be vaccinated, this will help retain current valuable employees. Complying with the law protects against future litigation.

Barbara M.
Venice, CA

I would not visit your optical shop if you had staff that was NOT vaccinated. The optometric business where I worked until March 2020 just let their front desk and another tech go; they would not get a vaccine. If you work directly in the field of healthcare, your decision to not get vaccinated compromises the health of your patients. How would you feel if a patient/client got sick a week later, perhaps due to your staffer? Did you all have the polio vaccine, or any vaccine when you were born? In order to go to kindergarten, children must prove their vaccination records. This is another of those times. It’s a choice: job = vaccine.

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Stewart G.
San Francisco, CA

As a patient, I wouldn’t want to go to a medical office without everyone being vaccinated to prevent the spread of a virus that can kill you. So I would expect all staff, and I mean ALL staff, to be completely vaccinated. It would be a prerequisite for employment. I don’t care how good the staff you might lose. I wouldn’t think any medical office would hire them without having proof of vaccination.

William C.
Forsyth, GA

This is so tricky and a button pusher for so many. So many conspiracy theories and lack of facts make it even worse. As a healthcare professional, I have to believe that those who are knowledgeable enough to create an FDA-approved vaccine will keep us on the safe path. Using the “against my religion” route is being used improperly by so many doubters. I was given so many vaccinations while serving in the military, if the COVID vaccination is “iffy” hopefully all the other mess I’ve been administered will save me.

Christopher D.
Leesburg, FL

Looking for a loophole to avoid the vaccine is not a good idea. The religious out is very narrow. And suggesting people try to use it to avoid the vaccine truly defeats the purpose of being vaccinated as healthcare workers.

There may be turmoil. Strong leadership is needed. Leverage those who are already vaccinated to gain buy-in from others who have hesitated. Use the materials and have an open, calm forum to discuss the risks and benefits.

Stand firm in expectations and time frame to achieve the desired outcome. If you come across as unsure, then those who refuse or are unsure will see that it is not a big deal. And be prepared to post that you’re now hiring for those who adamantly refuse without exemption. Everyone has a choice: Protect self and others and comply or choose a new career out of healthcare for their personal freedom.

 

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Carissa Dunphy, ABOC, has been working in private practice optometry since 2008. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Optician Now (opticiannow.com) and recently launched opticalgifts.com. Follow Carissa on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @opticiannow.

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