Mandates bring new role for law firms: playing vaccine cop

Vials of Pfizer’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine are seen at a pop-up community vaccination center at the Gateway World Christian Center in Valley Stream, New York, U.S., February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

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  • Law firms will have to determine whether medical, religious exemptions are valid
  • At least one firm, Paul Weiss, has hired an outside vendor to administer policy

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(Reuters) – U.S. law firms are entering a brave new world of logistical and administrative challenges as a growing number begin requiring lawyers, staff and even office guests to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Vaccine mandates are a policy issue for firm managers, but they also create demands that law firms haven’t typically experienced as employers before, industry consultants said, like verifying a person’s medical status or assessing a request for religious exemption.

“Those are all capabilities law firms have not had to develop internally,” said Kristin Stark, a principal at Fairfax Associates.

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It’s territory that most law firms are not used to wading into, agreed Zeughauser Group consultant Kent Zimmermann. “If you have someone claiming an exception for a religious reason, how do you understand the authenticity of that?” he asked.

But that is the route some law firms are going. Cooley has told its employees that they will have to talk to the firm’s chief human resources officer or its benefits director if they are seeking an accommodation to the firm’s vaccination policy, which requires employees, clients and guests to be fully vaccinated before entering its U.S. offices.

A spokesperson for Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo said the firm will handle medical or religious exemption on an individual basis, “but those not meeting required conditions of employment should not expect to have continued employment.” Mintz is requiring its employees to get vaccinated before Sept. 13.

At least one major law firm – Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison – has contracted with a third-party vendor, Cleared4, to administer its vaccination policy, according to an Aug. 5 internal memo from firm chairman Brad Karp.

Cleared4 is a cloud platform that allows its clients to customize and manage their respective vaccination, testing, and contract tracing policies and change them on the fly, said Ashley John Heather, the president and co-founder of Cleared4.

“There’s not one rule everyone wants to use,” Heather said.

The platform also allows Cleared4’s clients to tie an employee’s testing results to their access control, potentially denying an employee entry into their workspace if they haven’t complied with the company’s policy, Heather added.

The Paul Weiss memo said it will also use the Cleared4 platform for firm visitors. A spokesperson for the firm did not respond to a request for comment.

At least a dozen law firms reached out to Cleared4 in the week since the Paul Weiss memo was publicized, Heather said. The company, which charges $1-$3 per employee per month on top of a monthly platform fee and other costs, touts Google, Netflix, the City University of New York, and various U.S. sports stadiums as clients.

But law firms can be loath to take on any new expense, let alone for something they believe they can execute internally, Stark said.

“Law firms tend to be very cautious about spending money in general,” Stark said.

Industry consultants said many law firms are administering vaccine protocols through their existing HR infrastructure, though some have sought outside advice on policies.

Meanwhile, the spreading Delta variant has firms still revising plans, and many that are requiring vaccines have set deadlines that are still in the future. That means it will take time to assess how firms are enforcing their policies.

Stark said she anticipated law firms might hire a third party to administer and manage vaccination policies if a significant number of employees refuse to get vaccinated.

“I can see them going to get outside help,” she added.

Read More:

U.S. employers get religion with vaccine mandates

Employers eye vaccine mandates amid Delta surge: Fisher Phillips

White-shoe law firms get cold feet on office re-openings

See you in November? Delta surge prompts law firms to rehash return plans

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Zubair Q Britania

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