Image by hakan german from Pixabay

With free COVID-19 vaccines readily available to any person over 12 years of age in the U.S., and not everyone choosing to partake – it is a tricky conversation to navigate. With the Delta variant surging and the general unpredictability of the virus, it’s become downright awkward navigating this conversation with colleagues, family, and friends. To graciously maneuver these scenarios, consider these tips:

1. Democracy & Medical Conditions: Although millions of people have been vaccinated, invisible medical conditions, temporary illness, and resistance may prevent some people from participating in the vaccination process. Some will choose not to take the vaccine, and that is their prerogative. Be gracious with people who have differing views as they are entitled to their opinions in our U.S. American democracy.

2. Asking colleagues about the vaccine: Culture and etiquette experts disagree. Some argue that it is “acceptable” since it goes to safety which overrules cultural customs and politeness. However, others believe that if it is going to be asked that it should be done carefully using the sandwich method (see below) and without judgment. However, if you share your vaccination experience with another person, they may decide to share their own experience if they are comfortable. Some colleagues may consider this an invasion of privacy and an offensive, intrusive medical inquiry. Exercise caution before asking. This question may trigger anger if they have received previous harsh criticism, this may discourage an open dialogue.

3. Sandwich communication method: Beyond feedback, this method may be used to promote good communication and when making inquiries, not demands. Here, when communicating about a potentially difficult topic – the vaccine – you sandwich the inquiry between two positive statements. Approach a challenging subject so that others listen by saying “We are fortunate to be doubly vaccinated. I understand that approximately 70% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine dose. Let’s hope everyone who wants a vaccine is able to receive one soon.”

4. Can a boss ask an employee? Generally, yes. However, there are limits to the extent of the questioning. The EEOC has issued guidance on this topic and it is evolving daily at the local, state, and federal level. Currently, many hospitals and medical centers are requiring all medical staff to be vaccinated by certain dates or risk job loss. The federal government may be considering a new COVID-19 vaccine policy. 

5. Greetings: However, self-disclosure is a gracious way to greet a colleague or friend – if you are comfortable. Stay in your wheelhouse. If you have been vaccinated consider this approach, “Good morning Jennifer, it’s great to see again. I am fully vaccinated. May I shake your hand or hug you? Do you prefer a virtual handshake or hug?” This example sidesteps asking people directly about their vaccine status. However, it provides them with an opportunity to self-disclose or ignore the topic diplomatically and segue to another discussion.

6. Example policy: Organizations have implemented various tactics for screening unvaccinated individuals when the first priority must be safety. Examples include:

  • Mandatory self-identification with colored wristbands
  • Those not vaccinated either by choice or due to a health issue, must refrain from attending events until further notice based on CDC guidance
  • All those attending events in person must follow a mandatory wristband policy. If you choose to attend an event in person, wearing a colored wristband and a face mask to cover your nose and mouth at all times is required.
  • Wristband policy:

    • Green: Fully vaccinated and wearing my mask when not sipping a beverage
    • Yellow: Still in the vaccination process and practicing social distancing procedures. Wearing a yellow wristband and a face mask to cover my nose and mouth at all times. Not eating and/or drinking inside the building
    • Red: Not yet vaccinated or medically compromised. Not attending events until CDC advises the Delta variant or other threat has subsided.

This position is critical to the wellness of our organization and we will enforce it to maintain safety. We must also enforce these rules in compliance with our insurance policy.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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