Episode 290

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Every agency is going to have a vaccine policy. You have three choices – you can mandate the covid 19 vaccine, you can encourage it or you can take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and in essence, ignore it. But each of those choices is in essence a declaration of how you’re going to handle the question of vaccine in your shop. It will become your policy.

Given that truth, you should make a conscious decision and communicate it clearly to your team and clients. I have several agencies who have already had clients and prospective employees ask them a simple question, “is everyone at the agency vaccinated?” How are you going to handle it when you’re asked?

I’m obviously not a doctor or scientist but all of the available information indicates that COVID and the discussion around vaccines is going to be a big part of our shared awareness for at least the next few years. With that in mind, it’s important to make it clear where your agency stands on the issue.

In this solocast, I’m going to talk through the things you need to think about as you begin to approach creating your agency’s vaccine policy. There are basically three options: you can require, encourage, or ignore the vaccine. Each of these creates a series of questions that you as the agency owner has to be prepared to answer and I want to give you as much information as I can to guide your decision.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Vaccine Policy

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The importance of having your vaccine policy in writing
  • The three choices around creating a vaccine policy
  • How no decision creates your policy unwittingly
  • The criteria for requiring vaccines
  • Limitations on what we can do to entire employees to get vaccinated
  • Questions to consider when creating your vaccine policy
  • Why this shouldn’t be a group decision
“You cannot not have a vaccine policy.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Even an ‘ignore it’ decision is a policy.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “We absolutely as employers can encourage our employees to get vaccinated, but there are limitations on what we can do to entice our employees to do that.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Other people’s decisions may mean that if you have employees that are not vaccinated what they’re able to do for you as an employee to earn their paycheck may be more limited.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “How does mandating, encouraging, or ignoring the vaccine align with your company culture? If you look at your core values, what does that tell you about this decision and how does it sort of drive you in one way or another?” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “In your heart of hearts, what is the best decision for you, for the agency, for the team, and for your clients?” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

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About the Author: Drew McLellan

For 30+ years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies, and then started his own (which he still owns and runs) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops, and more.

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for agency owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with over 250+ agencies every year, Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written several books, including Sell With Authority (2020) and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable. And if you want, down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McClellan. 

Drew McClellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks so much for making the time to hang out with me. This is one of my solo casts. So if you are new to the Build a Better Agency family, then you may not be familiar with that. But basically, every fifth episode is just me and you talking about something that I know is on your mind, because a lot of other agency owners and leaders have asked me about it. So no guests this time, just me and you.

And we’re going to talk about a topic that I think is super timely and not something you can afford to ignore. But before I tell you what we’re going to talk about and before we start talking about it, I want to make a couple announcements and also give you a fair warning.

So if you watching the video version of the solo cast, you can see over my shoulder that my black lab Heather is sleeping on the chair behind me. Heather snores. So you may hear her snoring. It’s not me. I’m hoping it’s not you. It is the dog. And we will just blame it on the dog even if it is you. Because obviously it can’t be me, because I’ll be talking. But anyway, if you hear a weird rumbling, it’s not thunder, it’s not your audio. It is the 90 pound lab taking a mid-afternoon nap.

The other thing I want to tell you about is I want to remind you that the Build a Better Agency Summit, our very first conference built specifically for small to mid-sized agencies, completely focused on helping you run the business of your business better. That is finally coming to fruition. It was supposed to happen in May of 2020, November of 2020. And now, it is on for August of 2021. I would love for you to join us. We have some amazing speakers. I just want to give you a little taste of what the breakout speakers are going to be. 

So we have four different breakout speakers over the course of the two days. So we have a gentlemen named Scott Leff. Scott is an M&A specialist. And all he does is deal with agencies, buying and selling of agencies. What he’s going to talk about is how to get your house in order. How do you build an agency that someone would want to buy someday? And what are the things you need to consider about whether or not you want to build an agency that you would want to put up for sale some day? What are the compromises and the consequences of that choice, and how do you do a better job of getting your agency ready to sell?

Amber Naslund is also going to join us. Amber is midway through writing a book about impostor syndrome. She’s interviewed a ton of people. She’s going to talk about what causes it. And most importantly, sort of normalize it and acknowledge that it is something that we all deal with. And she’s got some great, tangible ways for us to deal with that when it crops up. And we look in the mirror and we think, “Oh my gosh, they’re going to find out I’m a fraud.” So Amber is going to help us with that. She’s an amazing speaker. I’ve seen her several times. 

Sharon Toerek is another breakout speaker. If you’ve been around AMI for a while, many of you are familiar with Sharon. She is an attorney that specializes in working with small to mid-sized agencies. So she lives our world every single day. Many AMI agencies refer to her as their attorney. I know I certainly do. And Sharon’s going to talk specifically about the traps and dangers of social marketing and influencer marketing, and how to create campaigns that will keep you out of hot water. So she’s got a lot of great strategies on what you need to be thinking about, what you need to put in your contracts, what you need to do in terms of disclosures around social and influencer campaigns, and how to get yourself and your client to stay out of trouble.

And then finally, Tamsen Webster is our fourth breakout speaker. And Tamsen, I think by the time the conference is on, I believe her book will be out. And if not, it’ll be shortly after that. But Tamsen is going to talk to us about how we and our team find the strongest idea. So she has a methodology that she calls the simplest way to find the strongest ideas. 

So I’ve heard all of these folks speak before. I have consumed their content. I have referred people to them. These are super smart people who are very engaging. And any one of these breakout speakers is going to help you run your business better. post-conference. So you’re going to get to choose two of the four if you join us at the Build a Better Agency Summit. And I am hoping that you do choose to do that. If you will head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, right in the top left navigation is BABA Summit click on that. And you can register. You can read about all the other speakers. I’m just scratching the surface with these four. And please come join us. It’s going to be a spectacular event. We are going to learn so much. And we’re going to be together. We’re going to be in rooms together, connecting, networking, telling stories. It’s going to be awesome. And I really hope you join us.

Okay. Last announcement. And then I will get into the solo cast. As you know, every solo cast, or as I hope anyway, every solo cast, we draw a name. And that person wins a free workshop. How do you get in the drawing you ask? All you have to do is go to wherever you download the podcast, wherever you are subscribed to the podcast,. Go there and leave us a rating and a review. Take a screenshot of that rating and review and email it to me at [email protected]. Why do I need the screenshot? Because I can’t tell by your username bambilovesthumper203. I can’t tell by that who you are, or which agency you work at, or own if you’re an owner. So if you will just take a screenshot, send it my way, then you too could be a lucky winner. Your names stays in there forever. So either sooner or later, you’ll win. So go leave us a review and a rating, take a screenshot, email it to me. And you could be as lucky as Lisa [Bragg 00:07:26]. 

Lisa is this month’s winner of the free workshop. Again, our workshops range from 1,600 to $2,000. So taking two minutes to leave a review and send it to me, not a bad deal. Not a bad ROI. So Lisa, I will be reaching out to you to let you know that you won in case she missed this episode, and also to talk to you about which workshop you would like to attend.

All right, let’s dig down into the topic. So I have done a couple videos on this. I’ve talked about this a little bit. But I want to really get your attention. If you have no takeaway from this podcast other than the next sentence I’m about to utter, I feel good. 

You cannot not have a vaccine policy. Every single agency by design or by action is going to have a vaccine policy. So given that that is the case, I want you to think about it, and actually intentionally set your vaccine policy.

So here’s what I mean by that. So you can have a vaccine policy. It can be in your handbook, and that is your official policy. You can also not have a vaccine policy in your handbook, and you can behave a certain way, and that’s going to become your vaccine policy. 

I think it’s super important that number one, you think this through. And number two, that you have in writing what your policy is. Because I promise you, you are going to be asked. You’re going to be asked by your employees. You’re going to be asked by your current clients. You’re going to be asked by prospective clients. And you’re going to be asked by prospective employees. 

Do I think that this is going to be forever? No. As I have said before, I am neither a doctor nor a scientist. But from everything I’ve read, I believe that the COVID vaccine is not a one and done thing. And that for a lot of us, we’re going to be getting a COVID vaccine every year just like we get a flu shot. So will that normalize eventually? Probably. But for the next few years, the heightened fear around COVID … and really, we’ve been indoctrinated for the last year or more to stay away from each other, to not be in each other’s presence, to keep social distance, to be wearing masks. And the vaccine allows us to go back to a more normal lifestyle if you will in both our work and our personal life.

So I think that for a couple years at least, there is going to be this heightened concern about COVID and who am I around? Are they vaccinated? Are they not vaccinated? Again from vendors, employees, and clients. So I want you to really think this through and put a stake in the ground. Whatever you decide, there is not one right vaccine policy for all agencies. But there is a right vaccine policy for you based on a lot of criteria. And that’s what I want to spend this solo cast on is let’s talk through what you need to think about as you start to approach having a vaccine policy.

So you have three choices. Do you mandate the vaccines? Do you encourage the vaccines? Or do you ignore it altogether and never talk about it? Those are your three choices. And they are all viable choices for you. You just have to decide which one is the right fit.

Even an ignore it decision is a policy. If you don’t want to ask your employees if they’re vaccinated or not, if you don’t want to require any sort of documentation or on the other end of the extreme, you don’t want to require that everyone get vaccinated, then that is a policy. The policy is it’s none of our business. It’s your medical information. If anyone asks, we’re simply going to say, “I don’t know, we didn’t think that was our business.” But if that’s your policy, it should be recorded as such. It should be in the handbook. You should have it in writing somewhere So when a prospect or a client asks, or a prospective employee asks, you can show them and say, “this is our policy.” because I’m ignoring it is a decision and is a policy.

So can we require vaccines? Absolutely. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC as you typically see it referred to here States. So I will caveat this. I’m saying we can are vaccines here in the states. If you are not from the United States, you’re going to want to check with your city or federal government to see what you are allowed. So in the U.S., we are allowed to require a vaccination. The EEOC has issued guidance that says employers may institute a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. So far anyway, has been challenged a few times. Most states and local jurisdictions are just following the EEOC guidance on this issue. So I have not yet heard of anyone that has decided they’re going to mandate vaccines that has gotten any pushback at the city, state, or federal level.

But if you are going to mandate your vaccine, you must meet four criteria. Three of which I think are relevant for us, and one is not so much. And again, this is US-based, but I suspect this is going to be true for most people in most countries. 

Number one, the first criteria is the vaccine has to be available to your employee population. So in some countries, I was talking to an agency owner who lives in Canada. And she was saying that they probably won’t be eligible for a vaccine until this fall. So it doesn’t make any sense for them to require a vaccine before people can actually get a vaccine. So that’s criteria number one.

Criteria number two is you must allow for exceptions for medical or health reasons. So there are some people who are allergic to what’s in the vaccine, or other reasons from a health perspective, why their doctor is saying they shouldn’t get the vaccine. And you need to allow for that exception.

You must also allow for an exception for employees that have, and this is the EEOC language, not mine. A real religious belief. So they’re not just using religion to avoid the vaccine. They have to be able to document that this is a genuine religious belief that they don’t believe in vaccinations.

And the fourth criteria. And again, for most agencies, this is irrelevant. But the fourth criteria based on the EEOC ruling is if your employees are unionized, your collective bargaining agreement may prevent requiring the vaccine.

So again, from the U.S., this is our rules. If you’re from another country, you’re going to want to find out. But I’m betting that the criteria if you’re allowed to mandate vaccines is pretty much the same. 

Okay. Can we encourage vaccines? We absolutely as employers can encourage our employees to get vaccinated. But there are limitations on what we can do to integrate our employees to do that. So in most cases, this would be part of a wellness program. That’s how it would be designated by the EEOC. And under the American Disabilities Act, if the wellness program gets into disability related issues, the wellness program must be voluntary. So we can offer small gifts or tokens, water bottle, stickers, that kind of thing. So think of it as trash and trinkets sort of thing. We can offer that kind of thing for someone to participate in the wellness program. I.e. get the vaccine. But based on what I’ve been reading and seeing, and I have not found anything that is contrary to this, we can’t for example offer employees a bonus if they get vaccinated or some other sort of bigger monetary consideration.

Now if your program is voluntary, there are some things that you can and can’t do. Number one, you can ask them to verify, to prove to you that they’re vaccinated. So that would mean showing you a copy of a photo of a photo of, or their actual vaccination card. And again, they don’t have to show you the real one. But they would have to show you a copy or a photo. But you’re not allowed to ask them for their health records if for some reason they don’t actually have a vaccination card. They again, can get a letter from their doctor or whoever gave them the shot. But you can’t ask for their actual health records. 

Keep in mind too that if they for example, email you a photo of their vaccination card, you’re going to want to delete that email. You don’t want to print out or have a copy of their vaccination card in your employee records. Why? Because the minute you have medical information in their employee records, then you have to protect wherever you store those employee records differently. Because now, it’s a HIPAA thing. It’s a HIPAA factor here in the states, which is you’ve got to keep their health information very private. So you’d have to have it in a locked cabinet. It’s just more onerous. You don’t need to do it. 

What a lot of agencies are doing whether they mandate or encourage is they are basically just putting together either a Google Sheet or an Excel spreadsheet. And they’re noting every employee when they got the date, when they got their second shot if they are getting the Pfizer or the Medina, or when they got their one shot, if they’re getting the Johnson & Johnson. And then they have a column, and we don’t know the answer to this yet. But when is a booster or another shot needed? So they can sort of keep track of how every employee is keeping up with the vaccine. So their name and the date of their last shot if they got two shots, and then they’ll be able to record when they have to go back and get another shot once we know when that.

So some questions to think about as you’re sort of weighing this, I have a lot of questions I want you to think about. So part of the show notes for this episode will be a PDF of all of these questions I’m going to walk you through right now. So if you’re on a treadmill or you’re driving, you don’t need to stop. So you write these down. Just go to the show notes on the AMI website, and you can download these questions. 

So question one is how will you articulate to your team, if you decide to mandate vaccines, how are you going to articulate that decision to your team rather than saying, “We want to encourage them”? So if you cross the line into mandating, how are you going to explain why that’s important to the agency? And keep in mind that this is not about you sticking your nose in people’s business. This is not about you wanting to be the boss of everyone. If you decide that you’re mandating vaccines, what you’re saying is, “I believe I have a business reason for doing this. I believe we put client relationships at risk. We put potential new employee relationships at risk if we are an office where they know they’re only going to be around people who have been vaccinated.” So you just need to figure out how do you talk about that to your team in a way that makes it very clear to them that you’ve thought this through, and that it’s important for the health of the agency that you mandate vaccines. 

So if you decide to mandate vaccines, are you going to mandate that all employees be vaccinated? Or are you going to say, “You know what, if your job can be performed remotely, or social distancing and PPE equipment is going to be challenging on site, you don’t have to get vaccinated.” Let’s say you have a remote employee in another part of the country. Are you going to require that they get vaccinated? And then part of the question of that is do they interact with clients? Do you bring them back to the main office, and do they interact with your other employees? So again, you need to weigh all of that. Is this an all for one, or are you going to make designations based on where people work or the kind of work they do?

Do you want to work environment that is always going to include masks and social distancing? If you don’t mandate and you encourage, and some of your employees say, “Look, I feel really uncomfortable being in an office space, or being out on a shoot or at a trade show with a client if I’m not sure that my coworkers have been vaccinated.” So I want us to always wear masks and continue to social distance. Is that a work environment that you want long term? 

How will you handle employees who must travel out of state or out of the country to perform their jobs? And how does this get impacted if the airlines, or airport authorities, or other municipalities or localities begin to require proof from the vaccination? Now all of a sudden if you encourage or ignore, you’re going to have people on your team that would mean maybe you have a client that says, “Look, the only people who can walk in this building are people who are vaccinated.” So then that’s going to dictate which employees can work on that client’s business. 

So be thinking about that there are going to be outside forces that may put pressure on you to make a decision in one way or the other. And, other people’s decisions may mean that if you have employees that are not vaccinated, what they’re able to do for you as an employee to earn their paycheck may be more limited.

Think about this. What impacts will employees being vaccinated or not have on your business beyond the onsite work considerations? So depe