Nonprofits and the COVID-19 Vaccines

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This page includes nonprofit-related guidance, federal policies, and operational resources to help nonprofits understand what is required of them as employers and how they can go beyond what is required to help contribute to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Federal vaccine mandates that apply to nonprofits

In September 2021, President Biden unveiled a multi-point strategy to combat COVID-19. Several parts may apply to certain nonprofits, depending on factors such as their size and who they serve. Here’s a summary of updates and links to further information:

  • Vaccination Mandate and Testing Alternative for Larger Employers: On November 4, 2021, the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that workers are vaccinated or are regularly tested for COVID-19. Barring court intervention blocking the ETS, nonprofit employers with 100 or more employees will be required starting January 4, 2022 to ensure their workers are vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19, with exceptions for certain employees.
    NOTE: As of right now, there is a temporary stay of enforcement on this requirement as the Fifth Circuit of the Federal Court of Appeals considers the legality of the mandate. Even as this makes its way through the courts, nonprofits covered by the ETS should be preparing to implement its requirements.
  • We prepared a summary intended to answer most nonprofit questions and provide assistance to nonprofit employers seeking to determine whether their organization is covered by the mandate and if so, to comply with the standard.
  • Highlights to help you determine whether the OSHA ETS applies to your organization, and whether you need to dive into the details more fully, are:
    • Both full- and part-time employees are counted.
    • If a nonprofit operates more than one site, all employees from all sites are counted.
    • Contracted workers are not counted.
    • Remote workers are not required to be vaccinated but need a negative test when in-person with coworkers or clients/customers.
    • If a nonprofit is part of a national organization (for example, United Way), then the employee count is just those within the local, regional office.
    • Individuals who have certain medical conditions or sincerely held religious objections (as defined by the EEOC) will not have to be vaccinated, but still must be tested and wear face coverings in group settings.
    • Employers may require employees pay the costs of testing, except where other legal or collective bargaining obligations require otherwise.
  • Vaccination Mandate for Government Contractors: An Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors released on September 9, 2021 requires that, just like all federal executive branch workers must be vaccinated, all employees of contractors that do business with the federal government must be vaccinated. Importantly, this applies only to entities with federal contracts; Section 5(b) expressly exempts grants. Covered contractors must ensure that all their covered full-time and part-time employees are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by the updated deadline of January 4, 2022, unless individual employees are legally entitled to an accommodation, including workers with a disability or a sincerely held religious belief. The vaccination requirement applies to all employees of covered contractors, including employees in covered contractors' workplaces who are not working on a federal government contract. Further, all employees and visitors to workplaces must comply with masking and social distancing protocols. The guidance on government contractors issued September 24, 2021 reiterates that the contractor mandate does not apply to entities operating under federal grants (grantees). See the FAQs on Vaccination and Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors for more detail.
  • Vaccination Mandate for Health Care Workers: On November 5, 2021 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released an interim final rule, effectively immediately, requiring workers in most Medicaid and Medicare reimbursed health care facilities, including at hospitals and other nonprofit healthcare providers, to be vaccinated for COVID-19. CMS has also published FAQs for employers. The CMS rule does not require unvaccinated employees (e.g., those with medical or religious exemptions) to be tested weekly, although covered nonprofits can provide for testing requirements in their organizational COVID-19 vaccination policies.
  • Proof of Vaccination or Testing to Enter Large Entertainment Venues: “The President’s plan calls on entertainment venues like sports arenas, large concert halls, and other venues where large groups of people gather to require that their patrons be vaccinated or show a negative test for entry.” The language of “calls on” rather than “mandates” or “requires” suggests it will be voluntary, but that may change. And, of course, state and local mandates may apply now or in the future.
  • Vaccination of School Staff and Testing of School Staff and Students: The plan includes vaccination mandates for teachers and staff at federal programs – “Head Start and Early Head Start programs, teachers and child and youth program personnel at the Department of Defense, and teachers and staff at Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools.” More broadly, it “calls for Governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff,” and calls on “all schools to set up regular testing in their schools for students, teachers, and staff consistent with CDC guidance.” Again, use of the softer language of “calling” for certain actions suggests it seeks voluntary actions for the common good of all.
  • Using Food Banks and Community Health Centers as Distribution Centers: “To ensure that every American—no matter their income level–can access free, convenient, at-home tests,” the federal government “will send 25 million free at-home rapid tests to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks.”
  • Improved Terms for COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL): The Small Business Administration (SBA) will improve this long-term, low-cost loan program, for which many nonprofits are eligible, by increasing the maximum amount of funding a small business can borrow through this program from $500,000 to $2 million which can be used to hire and retain employees, purchase inventory and equipment, and pay off higher-interest debt. Also, “The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic without having to worry about making ends meet.”
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Vaccination policies at your nonprofit

Your nonprofit does not need to have more than 100 employees, be a federal contractor, or be a health care provider to have a vaccination policy. Nonprofits can develop their own policies covering vaccinations and masking. David Heinen of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits explores the pros and cons and other aspects of adopting COVID-19 vaccination requirements in this piece offering considerations for nonprofits thinking about implementing vaccine requirements.

Our own organization, with just eight staff, has adopted a COVID-19 Vaccination and Mitigation Policy. Our policy explains why: “We firmly believe in promoting the public good, which at a minimum includes doing what we can as an organization to provide a safe working environment for our employees, volunteers, and visitors to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID‑19.”  We agree with what Kevin Dean, CEO of Momentum Nonprofit Partners in Tennessee, wrote in this blog post urging nonprofits to implement vaccine mandates“No nonprofit organization can fulfill their mission—no matter what that mission is—if their staff and constituencies are in danger.”
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Helping our communities get vaccinated

Beyond having an internal policy on vaccinations, your nonprofit can proactively help others in your community get vaccinated. There is a role for every nonprofit, not just for big or health-related nonprofits. In our national webinar, “How every nonprofit can help the communities we serve get vaccinated,” we heard from renowned medical expert Dr. Vin Gupta about the latest on the pandemic and from Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, about the newly-launched COVID-19 Community Corps. As engaging as those speakers were, the highlight was hearing from frontline heroes: Astrid Aveledo, Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Grays Harbor & Pacific Counties in Washington; Anni Chung, President and CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly in California; and Vanessa Fields, Director of Southeastern Halifax Coalition in North Carolina. Each leader shared how their organization is proactively problem-solving – not only seeing and listening for, but also anticipating and then eliminating the barriers that are preventing the people they serve from getting vaccinated. Language barriers, reading barriers, technological barriers (both access to and use of), trust barriers, transportation barriers, and more – all removed by these humble yet inspiring leaders. Through their actions, they proved that whether you help five people or 500 get vaccinated, your nonprofit can make a huge difference saving lives and serving communities.
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