When it comes to COVID-19 this season, the National Football League means business — literally. And you should too.

Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy (11282237595)

Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last season, COVID-19 breakouts on several teams threatened to cancel many National Football League games. But, NFL scrambled to make it work.

However, this year, with the vaccinations widely available, the NFL will be cracking down on teams that don’t take prophylactic steps to avoid disrupting the 2021-22 season.

Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams warning them that the NFL will not tolerate players, coaches, and staff who don’t mitigate COVID-19 health and safety issues. Here are a few snippets:

The impact on players

  • If a vaccinated person tests positive and is asymptomatic, he or she will be isolated and contact tracing will promptly occur. The positive individual will be permitted to return to duty after two negative tests at least 24-hours apart and will thereafter be tested every two weeks or as directed by the medical staffs.
  • If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the protocols from 2020 will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and will then be permitted to return to duty if asymptomatic.

The impact on competition

  • Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place. A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game. Postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner’s discretion.
  • If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection.
  • If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.

The financial impact

  • If a game is rescheduled due to a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club experiencing the outbreak will be responsible for all additional expenses incurred by the opposing team and will also be required to pay any shortfall between actual and expected payment to the VTS pool.
  • If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players on one of the competing teams, that club will forfeit the contest and will be responsible for the lost payment to the VTS pool.

The NFL can impose additional sanctions on teams that can’t get with the program.

Many players have heard the League’s message loud and clear. Others not so much. Still, others don’t understand HIPAA. While the NFL has not yet mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for players, it will fine players over $14K for each violation of COVID-19 protocol.

There is no vaccination option for Tier-1 staff (coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers, and scouts). They are mandatory. And a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach found that out the hard way after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccination. So, the team ended his employment.

Employer takeaways

The NFL has taken a hybrid approach to employee vaccinations — mandatory for some and wielding a stick to “incentivize” others to get the vaccine. Ultimately, the NFL Commissioner and the 32 teams are running a business. Players and coaches may gripe at some of the decision-making here. Some may resign or get fired. That’s at-will employment.

But guess what? The game will move on, fans will watch, and the product will sell.

You are also running a business. How much latitude you provide to employees on COVID-19 vaccinations is up to you. But, whatever your decision, incentives, encouragement, mandate, it should involve some push towards vaccinations. Silence is not a reasonable option.

Because if your business suffers an outbreak, you may not be able to afford it.


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