ALL DENTAL OFFICE EMPLOYEES MUST BE VACCINATED BY SEPTEMBER 17, 2021
Well, she went there. For the past few weeks, we have been seeing the signs that Governor Mills would mandate that all Maine healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19. A copy of the regulation is attached below. While we are still reviewing the rule and its implications for Maine dentists, here are a few quick and dirty take-aways for our Maine dental friends:
1. The rule is grafted onto the existing healthcare worker immunization requirements, which previously only applied to employees of a “licensed nursing facility, residential care facility, intermediate care facility for persons with intellectual disabilities, multi-level health care facility, hospital or home health agency.” The COVID vaccination requirement is of course, mandated upon those folks now. And it also adds all employees of a dental practice or EMS Organization, REGARDLESS of their position. In fact, it also treats independent contractors as an employee for purposes of this vaccination requirement.
2. The rule does NOT require employees of dental practices or EMS Organizations to obtain the six other vaccinations required of a Designated Healthcare Facility (i.e. nursing homes and hospitals). Dental office employees don’t have to go out and get their MMR, chicken pox, Hep B, or flu shots if not otherwise required.
3. When does it takes effect? Employees must have received their final does by September 17, 2021.
4. Are there exemptions? Yes, for medical reasons only, though not for philosophical ones. Check out Section 3 at the bottom of page 4 of the regulation, which states that an employee “may be permitted to attend work if that employee is exempt in accordance with 22 MRS s. 802(4-B).” That statute allows an employee to be exempted from the immunization requirement if an employee’s physician provides a written statement that the immunization “may be medically inadvisable.” After September 1, this note can also be obtained from a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant.
5. Employees who do not qualify for an exemption and who do not provide proof that they have received their “final does” of immunization by September 17, 2021, must be excluded from the worksite. NOTE: it does not say they must be fired. While it’s unlikely most dental office staff can work from home, consider if that’s true for each case
6. Do I have to prove it? Yes. Employers must maintain copies of the employee’s immunization records for at least 6 years after the date of termination of employment. Employers must also keep a list of all employees who are not immunized. Employers, which now includes dental practices, must submit a summary report of the immunization status of all employees by December 15th of each year. While the contents and filing of this report are beyond the scope of this urgent release, we wish to make dentists aware of this requirement which is likely a new one for them, unlike hospital and nursing home administrators, who have long been subject to this requirement.
7. How long does this rule last? This was an emergency rule, which can only take effect for up to 90 days at a time, though that can be extended. My estimate is it will be extended and only in effect until the pandemic is over, and according to today’s press release from Augusta, this is likely to become a permanent requirement.
So, what should you do if you have employees who refuse to get vaccinated, and what are the consequences? What if you had an optional policy, or were making exceptions for disability or religious reasons – does this supersede those rules? What penalties does a dental practice owner face if they refuse to enforce these rules? Is remote work an option? If it’s your practice, can’t you do what you want?
These are tough questions and I must confess, I don’t know all of the answers at this point. So many employment situations will be case specific.
We are teaming up with the Maine Dental Association to put together a free webinar on Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00pm to discuss this in greater detail. In addition, as I did during the shut down in 2020, I intend to offer free limited consultations to MDA members. If in the meantime you have questions, you can reach us at 207-333-6700, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hang in there.