Vaccine Mandates and Your Nonprofit

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Back in April, we hosted a national webinar featuring experts discussing how to manage a return to in-office work. A lot has changed since then. The optimism that many felt about being able to resume work in the office over the summer, or certainly by Labor Day, was replaced by fresh worries as the Delta variant spread rapidly across the country. Too many people still remain unvaccinated, extending the length of the pandemic and putting themselves and others in jeopardy and economic recovery at risk.

Last week, President Biden unveiled a multi-point strategy to combat COVID-19. Several parts may apply to certain nonprofits, depending on the facts (such as their size and who they serve), although it’s uncertain at this time because federal agencies are still developing the details for the rules. Here’s what we know so far and where to look for future guidance. [Note: we created a page on Nonprofits and the COVID-19 Vaccines in November, 2021, with updates to the information in this blog post.] 

  • Vaccination Mandate and Testing Alternative for Larger Employers: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue “a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.” We expect nonprofits employing more than 100 people will be included. But there are many open questions, including: how to count employees (only full time or include part-time and volunteers), where to count (those in one location or total employees even if spread across multiple locations), and who is responsible for paying for the weekly testing?
  • Vaccination Mandate for Government Contractors: A new Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors 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. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has until September 24 to provide definitions for such terms as contractor and subcontractor.
  • Vaccination Mandate for Health Care Workers: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will issue rules governing the President’s vaccination mandate for “workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies.” These rules will build on recent CMS rules for nursing facilities and “will apply to approximately 50,000 providers and cover a majority of health care workers across the country,” including “nursing home staff as well as staff in hospitals and … clinical staff, individuals providing services under arrangements, volunteers, and staff who are not involved in direct patient, resident, or client care.”
  • 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 “increas[ing] 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, “SBA will ensure that no small business has to start repaying these loans until two years after they receive the funding, so small businesses can get through the pandemic without having to worry about making payments.”

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 about 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 organization, with just eight staff, has adopted a COVID-19 Vaccination and Mitigation Policy. Our policy explains why, including “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.”

Beyond having an internal-facing policy on vaccinations, your nonprofits can proactively help others in your community get vaccinated. For ideas, here’s the recording of our other national webinar on how nonprofits can help our communities get vaccinated. Also, check out the great resources and join us in being a part of the Vaccines & US campaign, which is a collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution with cultural organizations and other groups in communities across the country.


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