COVID-19 Vaccine Q&A Takeaways
by Josh Corman

AHEAD OF THE UPCOMING ISPA STRONGER TOGETHER SUMMIT, ISPA hosted a pre-session on the topic of COVID-19 vaccination and the workplace, exclusively for Summit registrants. Panelists Brooke Iley and Andrea Zemel spoke with ISPA Board Chairman Patrick Huey about helpful tips for managing vaccination policies as well as pitfalls to avoid along the way. Iley is the leader of law firm Blank Rome’s COVID-19 Taskforce, Labor and Employment Group, and Zemel is in charge of people and culture at Trilogy Spa Holdings.

Navigating Incentives
One question has dominated early conversations among spa leaders when it comes to vaccination policies: Should spas mandate, incentivize or merely encourage employees to receive the vaccine? Both Iley and Zemel noted that the lack of legal complexity surrounding incentives as compared to mandates will likely make incentivizing vaccination a much simpler proposition for spas. Incentives, however, also require some forethought on the part of spa leaders. First, it’s important to settle on an incentive—be it a stipend, gift card, time off or service credit—that your business can afford to offer. If your spa isn’t able to purchase, say, $100 gift cards for every employee who gets vaccinated, then it may make sense to buy a couple of incentives and stage a friendly competition between teams of employees to encourage vaccination. “I like the team idea,” said Iley, “because that’s a way to really encourage people to get the vaccine without thrusting it from the employer perspective.”

It’s also important to be mindful of the individual barriers some individuals might face and remain flexible. “What I’ve learned in this process is just be inclusive,” said Zemel. “Be inclusive to those individuals who are not able to get vaccinated for any religious purpose or medical condition. Communicate as much as you can as you’re coming up with these programs.”

Get Ahead on Communication
Communicating with spa employees regarding vaccination policies and initiatives is, of course, crucial. But just as important, is the communication between spa employees and spa guests on the issue because some guests will almost certainly ask about the vaccination status of therapists and service providers at the spa in the coming weeks and months. Andrea Zemel pointed out that any guest-facing communications should first emphasize all of the other COVID-19 policies and precautions that the spa has implemented to keep guests safe. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to lose sight that, even before vaccinations, we were taking every precaution for our employees and our guests,” said Zemel.

Iley added that, whatever policies a spa ends up putting in place, those need to be shared with staff, along with any talking points that may help communicate information to guests without crossing any lines. “Having good communications and talking points for the different staff as they’re engaging with the customer base is the most critical—good communication and training people how to answer the uncomfortable conversation up front,” she said.

Remain Flexible
Even if all a spa or business offers its employees in exchange for vaccination is encouragement, there a still a couple of important points to consider. One is that employees can only be encouraged to a certain point, and then the decision must be left to them. That doesn’t mean vaccination shouldn’t be openly and consistently discussed, however. “I think having a champion that will do all of the backend research and who is able to divulge all the information to your spa teams, make sure you’re following those CDC or OSHA guidelines, create flyers, videos—I think here more knowledge is power,” Zemel said.

It’s also key that spas encouraging their employees to become vaccinated also allow for flexible scheduling that will make it easier for staff to take the time to receive their vaccination. One thing that may make a flexible approach easier is the extension of tax credit provisions originally found in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as part of the more recently passed American Rescue Plan Act. This extension grants employers (with between 50 and 500 employees) a refundable tax credit for up to 10 days of qualified paid sick leave per employee and expands the scope of covered reasons for which employees can be provided qualifying leave to include obtaining or recovering from side effects due to a COVID-19 vaccination. Says Iley, “As an employer, you’re still able to get the dollar-for-dollar tax credit on the back end, so it’s a really great way to offer something and actually get your money back as well.”

Full Disclosure
As more and more individuals receive vaccinations, guests are increasingly likely to ask about the vaccination status of spa employees or specifically request treatment from a vaccinated therapist or service provider. Spas that receive these requests should not disclose the vaccination status of their team members and should have a defined policy that employees can “pin the blame on” if guests ask one of them directly. Brooke Iley suggested that, if asked, the spa should communicate to guests that it is the spa’s goal to get every employee fully vaccinated, reiterate the other safety measures the spa has put in place for the protection of staff and guests and rotate service providers on an automated basis to satisfy guest concerns while also avoiding issues of discrimination among vaccinated and non-vaccinated staff. “That way,” said Iley, “if they had some one person that they always go to, it’s not flagging that potentially that person isn’t vaccinated. So you’ve accommodated the guests on a short term basis, you’ve told them that you’re moving toward full vaccinations across the board and you’ve protected the status of your various service providers.”

As vaccination efforts continue to provide hope that a return to full-scale operations isn’t too far away, spa leaders should continue to stay informed about the best practices regarding vaccination policies and COVID-19 protocols through organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).