Health Action Alliance (HAA): Small Business Guides

We’re pleased to share partner content developed by the Health Action Alliance (HAA). The HAA has developed a “Small Business Guide to COVID-19 Vaccines: Tips for Supporting Employees, Customers and Communities.” The HAA is a unique partnership between leading business, communications and public health organizations to strengthen and accelerate the business community’s response to COVID-19 and help rebuild public health. For more information, please visit Below you will also find tools, templates and communications resources, such as checklists and handouts, to help you engage employees, workers, customers and other stakeholders. 

Small businesses play many roles in the U.S. economy: employers, sources of innovation, economic multipliers, community hubs, trusted messengers. More than 92 million people generate their livelihoods from small businesses, either as an owner or an employee. And, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, small business is the most trusted institution in the country.

As a small business owner, you’ve shouldered a disproportionate economic burden during the pandemic. Nearly 85% of small businesses have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. More than half of Black and Hispanic small business owners report that the pandemic has been “catastrophic” or “very bad.”

Getting back to life—back to seeing our loved ones, back to school, and back to business—requires that we turn the tide against COVID-19. Vaccines, highly effective and safe, offer hope and protection that can help our country open back up.

But vaccines alone won’t protect us. We must encourage a large majority of the public to get vaccinated, continue to wear our masks and maintain distance to stop the spread, reduce health inequities, and strengthen our public health infrastructure so we can be better prepared for the future.

That’s why businesses across the country are encouraging vaccination. Small businesses can take big steps to help, building on their trusted relationships with employees, workers and customers. Together, we can turn the tide against COVID-19, rebuild our economy and create a stronger, healthier future for everyone in America.

This guide is designed to help you get started by:

  • Communicating with employees, workers and customers about the safety and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and reinforcing the importance of masking and social distancing to prevent the spread.
  • Making a plan to help your employees and workers get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity. This could include offering paid time off, transportation credits, child care or small incentives to workers who choose to get vaccinated.
  • Strengthening vaccination efforts in your community by offering help to public health departments, nonprofit organizations and others involved in the vaccine response.

This guide includes:

  • Tips and tools for small business owners
  • Easy-to-use resources
  • Action steps to get started

PART ONE: Communicating with Employees and Customers

The most important thing you can do as a small business owner is to communicate with your employees, workers and customers about the benefits and safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Key Vaccine Messages

It’s important to use trusted, fact-based messages from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health partners. Here are some messages you can consider:

  1. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
    There are multiple COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means the clinical evidence for the vaccines has met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards and they are considered to be safe and effective. Vaccines teach your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.
  2. COVID-19 vaccines can help us get back to the things we love.
    We all want to get back to our lives. Vaccinations can help us get back to many of the things we miss most, like spending time with loved ones and friends, traveling and going to events. They’ll help keep you from getting COVID-19, reduce hospitalizations and save lives.
  3. Get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity.
    As of April 19, 2021 all adults over the age of 16 are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.
  4. Which vaccine should you get? The one that’s offered.
    All of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been authorized by FDA. This means they’ve been thoroughly tested and have proven to be safe and effective in reducing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.
  5. COVID-19 vaccines provide hope—but we have to keep wearing masks and distancing to protect each other and stop the spread.
    Vaccines will help us end the pandemic, but only if we continue to wear our masks, watch our social distance, stay home when we’re feeling sick and wash our hands to keep everyone safe. Remember, you may still be able to spread the COVID-19 virus even after you’re vaccinated.
  6. It is okay to have questions about vaccines.
    We want to make sure you have access to trusted information in order to make decisions about vaccines for yourself and your family. If you have questions about whether vaccines are right for you, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

Options for Small Businesses

As a small business owner, you have lots of ways to communicate with your employees and customers. Here are some strategies you might consider:

  • Send an email or home mailer sharing facts about COVID-19 vaccines. Here’s a sample email and a vaccine fact sheet you can use. (Also available in Spanish.)
  • Organize a staff meeting or virtual “town hall” to share facts from trusted sources and to surface questions. Here’s a Conversation Guide to help you engage your employees and workers.
  • Use your company newsletter or social media channels to share trusted information about vaccines. Here’s sample newsletter content and social media tools from the CDC to help guide your outreach.
  • Invite vaccinated employees and workers to share their positive vaccine experience during a staff meeting or via a company newsletter or email.
  • Post workplace flyers or utilize in-store radio announcements and PSAs to reinforce the safety and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Invite a local physician or other public health expert to speak with your employees and workers about vaccines. Here’s a Tip Sheet for recruiting a speaker.
  • Lead by example. Make sure you get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity, and let your employees and workers know you did so. Continue requiring masks and social distancing to protect workers, customers, and others at your place of business.

Supporting Employees with Additional Questions

According to the latest public opinion surveys, a growing majority of Americans have already begun the process of vaccination or are ready to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity. Some people, however, may have additional questions or need extra support before making their decision about vaccines.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Acknowledge that it’s ok to have questions. As an employer, your role is to make sure your workers feel supported. Don’t try to “convince” employees or “change their mind” about vaccines. Instead, offer trusted information and encourage employees to speak with their doctor or healthcare provider. GetVaccineAnswers is a great resource with answers to frequently asked questions about vaccines in a variety of languages, including Spanish and Haitian Creole.
  • Understand that some groups may have unique experiences and concerns. Black, Hispanic, Asian-American, American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and have experienced higher rates of hospitalization, severe illness and death.
  • Lead with empathy. If you’re not a member of a disproportionately impacted group, it’s helpful to learn more about why these inequities exist and how they might contribute to additional questions about vaccines. You can support employees by acknowledging the deep historical traumas and structural inequalities that lead to poorer health outcomes and contribute to greater mistrust.
  • Create a safe, supportive workplace culture. As a small business owner, you can cultivate an environment where all workers feel supported by listening without judgment and creating space for questions. Understand that no community shares all of the same beliefs, perceptions and concerns. Every individual is unique, and every employee deserves to have their questions answered before making a decision about vaccines.
  • Identify local groups or resources who can help.  Many nonprofit organizations, public health departments, churches, cities and states are hosting events and launching initiatives to educate and engage diverse communities about vaccines. These offer great opportunities to connect your employees to events and initiatives that reflect their unique needs.

Three Steps to Getting Started

It’s important to begin communicating about vaccines now. Here are three things you can do right away:

  • Share with your employees why COVID-19 vaccines are important to you. Be honest, open and authentic. Reinforce that while each of us waits to get vaccinated, it’s important to continue wearing our masks and maintaining social distance in order to help keep our co-workers, customers and loved ones safe. When you have the opportunity to get vaccinated, lead by example and share about your positive vaccine experience.
  • Communicate your intention to create a workplace environment where all employees feel supported. Create an “open door” policy that invites workers to share questions and ask for help getting the information they need to make a decision about vaccines.
  • Provide information from your local public health department about the process for distributing vaccines in your state or community.

PART TWO: Helping Employees and Workers Get Vaccinated 

Once an employee has decided to get vaccinated, you can help by removing barriers that may prevent them from doing so and by offering modest incentives to encourage vaccination. Small businesses may not be able to afford all, or even some, of these proposed benefits or incentives. These are intended to provide examples of ways you might consider supporting employees and workers, to the extent you are able.

Options for Small Businesses

  • Provide paid time off to employees and workers who get vaccinated. Many employers are offering between 4-6 paid hours for each dose of a vaccine an employee or worker receives. (Note: Some COVID-19 vaccines require two doses.) A tax credit can help businesses with less than 500 employees (see below).
  • Offer paid leave or other support to employees and workers who experience side effects. President Biden announced a new paid leave tax credit that will offset the cost for small- and medium-sized businesses to provide full pay for any time their employees need to get a COVID-19 vaccination or recover from side effects. For more information, the Department of the Treasury offers a Paid Leave Tax Credit Fact Sheet with additional details on eligibility and program guidelines.
  • Cover out-of-pocket expenses associated with vaccination. This could include offering an Uber or Lyft gift card for transportation, a small stipend for lunch or reimbursement for child care.
  • Which vaccine should you get? The one that’s offered.
    All of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been authorized by FDA. This means they’ve been thoroughly tested and have proven to be safe and effective in reducing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.
  • Extend benefits and support to your entire workforce, including temporary, part-time or contract workers.
  • Help identify where workers can get vaccinated. The CDC has co-developed a VaccineFinder that can help you locate a vaccine site near you, as well as downloadable posters that can be customized for your workplace.
  • Offer internet access or language support services to help employees and workers schedule appointments.
  • Some small businesses may be able to partner with a local public health department or other providers to offer on-site vaccinations to employees and workers.
  • Consider providing small prizes, rewards or other modest financial incentives (i.e., gift cards, coupons, tokens, etc.) to employees and workers who get vaccinated.
  • Relieve any concerns about costs for vaccines. The federal government is providing vaccines free of charge to all people living in the United States. Vaccination providers can be reimbursed for administration fees by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the HRSA’s Provider Relief Fund. If you offer an employee health plan and have questions about whether administrative fees are a covered benefit, you should contact your plan administrator. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay.

Caution: Larger Incentives and Mandates

Some businesses may consider providing larger incentives and bonuses to employees and workers who get vaccinated. While these offerings may be well-intentioned, you should consider the tax and legal consequences of these benefits and determine whether the incentives offered can be perceived as coercive. Incentive programs also shouldn’t discriminate against employees or workers who aren’t able to get vaccinated for religious, medical or other reasons protected by federal or state law.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) latest guidance indicates that employers are allowed to mandate vaccines for employees and workers. However, fewer than 1% of U.S. businesses have decided to do so, according to a recent survey. Employers that choose to mandate vaccines will have to respect exemptions for disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and sincerely held religious beliefs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Those statutes also protect against retaliation for requesting reasonable accommodations.

If you choose to offer larger incentives or mandate vaccinations, you should check EEOC’s COVID-19 resource hub for the latest information and guidance. You should also consult a qualified attorney, as there are several legal and HR-related issues you’ll need to consider.

Three Steps to Getting Started

It’s important to plan ahead for vaccines and communicate how you’ll support your employees and workers. Here are three things you can do to get started:

  • Consider how your business can make it easier for employees and workers to get vaccinated by offering paid time off or other supports. Make sure your decision is consistent with best practices.
  • If you’re uncertain about whether to offer larger incentives or mandate vaccinations, you should review industry standards, consult with a trade association or local chamber of commerce and seek the advice of legal counsel.
  • Once you’ve made your plan, communicate clearly with employees and workers.

PART THREE: Strengthening Vaccine Distribution in Your Community

Delivering and administering hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations represents one of the greatest communications, logistical and public health challenges in our country’s history.  There are many ways your small business might support local vaccination efforts and contribute to a faster recovery.

Options for Small Businesses

  • Offer paid time off to employees and workers who volunteer with local agencies administering vaccines or organizations offering support services to the community (e.g., food distribution).
  • Organize an employee “service day” to support local vaccine efforts.
  • Encourage workers to assist others in the community who may need extra help scheduling vaccine appointments, including people who don’t have internet access or need language or literacy support.
  • Offer logistical support for the transport and delivery of vaccines.
  • Extend benefits and support to your entire workforce, including temporary, part-time or contract workers.
  • Offer transportation to people who need help getting to/from vaccination clinics.
  • Offer internet access or language support services to help employees and workers schedule appointments.
  • Offer empty office or retail spaces, warehouses, parking lots, or other large venues as vaccination sites.
  • Offer donated food and water, PPE and other supplies (i.e., tents, chairs, traffic cones, shade structures, office supplies, etc.) to local vaccination centers.
  • Offer staff who can provide language support services at vaccine sites.
  • Encourage your local chamber of commerce or Rotary Club to host an educational conversation on small businesses and vaccines and volunteer to share what you’ve learned.
  • Share basic vaccine information with your customers and community on your packaging or at your location of business.
  • Recognize your customers who have been vaccinated and encourage widespread vaccination by providing discounts or rewards to customers who have been vaccinated.

If your organization isn’t large enough to offer donations, supplies or employee volunteer time, you can still be helpful to community vaccination efforts. Consider ordering lunch for a community clinic in your city or town to support those working on the front lines—or give them a call to see how else you can help.

Three Steps to Getting Started:

It’s important to plan ahead for vaccines and communicate how you’ll support your employees and workers. Here are three things you can do to get started:

  • Think “outside the box” about what your small business may be able to do to help community efforts. Even small donations of food or supplies to a local clinic are valuable,
  • If you’d like to donate space, staff, or supplies to aid local vaccination efforts, your local public health department is the place to start. Here’s a sample donation email to help you reach out.
  • Consider how you might share basic information from the CDC with customers, for example with flyers in your store or on your packaging.

Our Tools and Resources

We’ve prepared tools, templates and communications resources to help you engage employees, workers, customers and other stakeholders, including:

Resources for Small Businesses