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By Gary Thill, IRE Business Update Editor
Amid increasing nationwide vaccination rates and changing CDC and OSHA guidance, some roofers are sticking with old protocols around masking and social distancing, especially with contractors being one of the most reluctant groups to get vaccinated in the U.S. While vaccinated workers can now go maskless in many situations — an enticing option in summer heat — experts say employers should proceed with caution if they choose to incentivize vaccinations.
“A lot of us are hybrid level and doing a mixture of both in person and dialing in to meetings,” said Sherri Miles, president of Miles Roofing and vice president of J.D. Miles & Sons. “Within the office we’re no longer masking, but otherwise all the policies remain the same.”
Like a lot of firms, Miles has a different policy in the office and on the job because office staff is following new CDC guidance that allows vaccinated people to unmask. Unlike field crews, all 10 office workers have been vaccinated.
But with 90% of her crews now vaccinated, Miles’ workers are outliers in construction, according to recent research showing nearly half of construction workers are reluctant to get vaccinated. Miles attributes her high rates to a concerted campaign to educate workers and encourage them to get jabbed. With no waiting lines in her area, she and her team have been encouraging truckloads of crews to get vaccinated at the end of the day.
“We say here’s a clinic that’s open today and they’re taking walk ins,” said Miles, who is also on the NRCA executive board and a co-founder of Meta Team. “At every opportunity, we have been in front of them and encouraging them.” Miles added that workers have an extra incentive. One of their own died from the virus earlier this year. “It’s a very personal thing for us,” she said. “We are very aware that it can be very devastating.”
Even with the new maskless incentives from the CDC and the ongoing risk of the virus, many roofers remain unwilling to get vaccinated, though that may be changing, said Trent Cotney, CEO of Cotney Construction Law and NRCA legal counsel.
“You’re going to have a lot of contractors breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to wear a mask anymore,” Cotney said.
He said it's best to encourage vaccination with voluntary incentives. For example, his company is giving $50 gift cards or 4 hours or PTO (the amount of time it would take to get vaccinated) to those who show proof of vaccination. He said 80% of his workforce has since opted to get the jab.
However, he said, in creating such incentives, employers must be careful not to create punishments for those who don’t get vaccinated. An example would be increasing pay for those who get vaccinated. “You want to make sure it doesn’t appear that you’re penalizing someone.”
That said, Cotney said it’s perfectly legal to ask for proof of vaccination. “But you want to think about that,” before you do it, he said, because some states have issued orders that so-called vaccination passports aren’t allowed.
Before making any changes, Cotney said roofers should put new policies in writing and be sure that those policies are distributed to employees. “Don’t let your guard down,” he said.
To avoid legal issues Cotney recommended the following general guidelines:
Finally, he said, employees can separate workers by vaccination when projects demand it. Generally, commercial, institutional and multifamily jobs are more likely to request fully vaccinated workers than residential jobs.
But in some states, such as Florida, the issue is mostly moot because the majority of mask mandates have been removed. Kelly Roofing lifted its masking policy even before the CDC and only has had sporadic and “almost nonexistent” cases since fall of 2020, said Ken Kelly, company president. Kelly added that his firm is also not incentivizing vaccinations, though most chose to get vaccinated.
Though some roofers may be concerned about liability for spreading the virus, most states have enacted liability shields that make it very hard for customers to sue around coronavirus issues. But even with that, Cotney and Miles encourage roofers to continue using safety protocols.
Said Miles: “We’re going to do what’s required, but we’re also going to do what’s best.”