For some, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is a badge of honor — something they will literally wear on their sleeves. For others, however, a Covid-19 vaccine is something they won’t get unless they have to — for example, if vaccination is required by their employers, or to travel.
A recent survey by Glassdoor found that 70 percent of U.S. employees currently working from home because of the pandemic think that workers should be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine to return to the office. And while some workplaces are moving toward making them a requirement, it’s too soon to tell how many ultimately will. In the meantime, workers will have to navigate the murky waters of whether or not to offer up their vaccination status to colleagues.
Covid-19 vaccination can be a tricky subject to navigate and one packed with potential pitfalls. Sharing any health information at the office “can polarize relationships and the career-savvy professional will understand that others may not value his or her perspective,” says Maureen Farmer, CEO, and founder of Westgate Executive Branding & Career Consulting. Plus,
“It can become political, and navigating politics is a skill not everyone has,” Farmer explains.
While you might be tempted to share that you got a shot — or why you’re avoiding a jab — with your coworkers, experts urge caution before divulging your vaccination status with colleagues. Before you offer up your vaccination status at work, there are several things you should consider, experts say. Here’s what to weigh before bringing up your COVID-19 vaccine status with your coworkers.
Consider your company’s culture and your coworkers’ expectations.
Every company has its own unique company culture surrounding self-disclosure — including how common it is for employees to discuss personal information. “Some workgroups seem to share lots of personal details, while others do not,” says Carolyn Goerner, clinical professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
Before you share, think: Is your workplace one in which colleagues often divulge these details? Does your company actively promote such discussions, or does it discourage such discourse?
“It isn’t realistic to expect culturally-bound behaviors to change overnight — and it is often the case that people react negatively to swift and unexpected violations of their expectations of how their co-workers will behave,” says Goerner. Evaluate your company’s culture before sharing, and consider what, if any, consequences there may be for sharing within its unique environment.
Consider why you want to share your vaccination status.
Getting vaccinated can be a personal decision, says career coach Hallie Crawford. Some people couldn’t wait to receive their Covid-19 vaccines, while others have fears and concerns that have kept them from getting inoculated so far. Crawford encourages you to think critically about why you want to share your vaccination status with coworkers — and what could happen if you do.
And Farmer agrees: “I would question an employee’s motivation to share their vaccination status at work. Most professionals do not share personal health-related information randomly at work unless it’s with a trusted colleague or friend. What are the benefits of sharing? What are the risks of sharing this very personal information with others who may not have a vested interest in us?”
Before you divulge your vaccination status, “Ask yourself if you want to share information or if you want to push your personal views on your coworkers,” Crawford advises. She points out that the latter reason can turn a casual conversation into a heated argument that can feel like a personal attack: “Keep in mind that some people are unable to be vaccinated due to underlying health issues or allergies that you may be unaware of,” Crawford says, “while others may have lost a loved one to Covid-19,” and because of that, could “feel strongly about being vaccinated.”
Of course, sharing your vaccination status can also be a way of easing coworkers’ minds about returning to the office. “Many professionals are feeling uneasy about going back to the office so that you may consider sharing your vaccination status with your immediate team and coworkers you will be in close contact with to discuss how you might interact with each other when you are back in the office,” she says, adding you should try to “be respectful of everyone’s decisions.”
Realize that you may be asked — and be prepared with a response.
Even if you haven’t given much thought to sharing your vaccination status with coworkers, they may have — and may ask you whether you’ve been vaccinated. “This can quickly turn into a heated topic, so if you decide to share your vaccination status, do so with caution, Crawford says.
But having an answer prepared can help minimize any potential conflicts. For example, Goerner says that “simply matter-of-factly sharing the
information,” the “same way you’d tell someone you got a flu shot,” can be one way to keep the conversation from getting contentious.
“Ideally, avoid the appearance of ‘I think I’m better than you because I’m vaccinated,’ which can cause excessive conflict,” she says. Treat it as a factual question rather than a value-laden one.”
Farmer says you may also want to acknowledge in your response that it can be a sensitive topic — whether or not you choose to divulge your vaccination status. If you opt to share, she suggests saying, “I realize this can be a sensitive topic. I want you to know I’ve received the COVID19 vaccination because I want my colleagues to feel safe working with me.” And if you prefer to keep your vaccination status to yourself, you might say, “I appreciate you asking me about my vaccination status. Unfortunately, I’m not comfortable discussing it. I hope you understand.”
It may be a requirement to share your vaccination status at your office.
You may think that your manager or organization can’t ask about your vaccination status. But the fact is, they can: HIPPA laws apply only to medical professionals, which means that your higher-ups can request — or even require — that you provide your vaccination status to them.
“As restrictions continue to ease and as more people are fully vaccinated, employers will start to ask more about vaccination statuses and may require that you submit your vaccine status to the human resources department” says Crawford. It may be a choice on your company’s part, or it maybe under an obligation to ask your vaccination status based on state directives says, Farmer.
If your employer asks you, you will have to provide your vaccination status — or face potential consequences, from disciplinary action, such as suspension, to potential termination.
A recent survey of 957 U.S. businesses found that 65 percent plan to offer employees incentives to get vaccinated, and 63 percent will require proof of vaccination. For those employees who declined to get a shot or share their vaccination status, 42 percent of businesses said those workers would not be allowed to return to the physical work environment, such as the office — and 35% percent said some disciplinary actions are on the table, including possible termination.
“Employees have a fiduciary duty to their employers,” Farmer says, “and following appropriate policies is expected.” What’s more, “contravention of employer policies may be grounds for dismissal, so it’s important that employees are well informed of their obligations,” she adds.
To help ease the process, managers should share their reasons for requesting vaccination status from their employees, says Goerner. “People are generally more responsive to requests if they understand the bona fide business reason behind the question,” she explains. “If that information is necessary to establish company safety procedures, work schedules, and so on, then say so.”
She adds that “If it appears that managers are asking out of curiosity — or to extend personal judgment — the request will be met with more suspicion and hesitation” and less cooperation.
Of course, your employer may also eventually require vaccination as a condition of working there. The same recent survey found that nearly half — about 44 percent — of the employer’s polled plan required that all employees get vaccinated before returning to the office. Another 31 percent will encourage vaccinations, and 14 percent will require some, though not all, employees to get vaccinated.
If you have a health condition that prevents you from getting vaccinated or are otherwise exempt from vaccination, these conditions may not apply to you. “Employers will surely be thinking about special considerations for those who for health or religious reasons do not get vaccinated,” Crawford says. But even so, you should be prepared to discuss your vaccination status with your employer and understand that you may have to provide proof of why you should be exempted.