Office Etiquette: How To Ask Co-Workers And Clients If They’re Vaccinated

HR Insight

The pandemic is bringing changes to every aspect of life, including how we perceive office life and the people associated with it. The fact that more and more people are returning to the office, now considered a public place with certain health and safety risk, can cause unnecessary subtle tension and anxiety if not handled properly.

Is it proper etiquette to ask someone their vaccination status?

Imagine this common situation: you’ve already fully vaccinated, but it doesn’t wipe out infection risk. So, knowing the vaccination status of the people you closely interact with is necessary not only for your physical but also mental health.

Or, you need to be back on-site, but your family has children at home who can’t be vaccinated.

The urge for information is there, but frankly asking clients or co-workers may create unwanted tension. Here are some tips for a smoother conversation.

Share your status first

It’s always best to gather information by sharing information first. As a social norm, most people would happily share their views in response. Don’t ask first, start by giving information on your own vaccination status and safety practices, then see how they respond.

You can start with something like:

"I’ve got 2 shots already but there are kids at home, so I’m still wearing masks to avoid transmission risk. I hope they can get their shots soon.

In most cases, people will positively disclose their status openly as vaccination generally is not a sensitive topic. If they seem reluctant to talk about vaccination, there could be hidden personal health, political or religious reasons behind it.

Make it purely a health and safety concern

The next tip is to avoid steering the conversation into the sensitive directions (aka personal, political, or religious reasons). Instead, express your concern in terms of health and safety only.

In case your client or co-worker shows mixed signals, it’s a safe move to suggest keeping safety protocols, following with asking about their status. It’s appropriate to suggest someone to follow general safety practices such as wearing masks or keeping distance.

You can say to a client:

Following our building policy and to keep the community safe, could you put your mask on and check your temperature at the door? May I confirm your vaccination status?

Or to a co-worker:

We are sharing a small indoor office, it’s best to follow our company’s safety guidelines. Do you mind if I ask if you’ve been vaccinated?

Know when to step back

In rare cases where the conversation gets heated and the other person seems angry, it’s best to step back. It’s uncomfortable given the fact that that unvaccinated people may put others’ health at risk. But there is no legal obligation by now, meaning vaccination is still a personal choice. Arguing will do nothing other than harming your long-term relationship with the person. Stay calm and positive as much as possible and avoid any judgmental debating. Make sure that the other side feels heard, not opposed.

Reach out to HR or management

If you feel uncomfortable working closely with clients and colleagues who are not vaccinated, the best approach is through your manager or HR department. Let them know about your case and ask for advice or support. As companies are becoming more aware of mental resilience and flexible working post-Covid, a mutual agreement is not out of reach.

In the old world, personal healthcare information is out of the question at work. But it seems we need to rewrite office manners in the new normal, as Covid-related matters are not just personal anymore, they also affect the company and the community.

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