As organizations implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates either requiring employees to be vaccinated, or creating a weekly testing regimen for those employees who are not vaccinated, COVID-19 vaccinations cards are being collected from employees as proof that they have received one of the COVID-19 vaccinations. This follows the November 5, 2021, and as upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on December 17, 2021, implementation of the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring businesses with over 100 employees to mandate that their employees get vaccinated, or submit to weekly testing. It is suspected that thousands of sellers are actively selling fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards. Organizations must be aware of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards in order to ensure the safety of everyone who enters the workplace. In order to do this, those charged with verifying the COVID-19 vaccination cards must be aware of what a fake card looks like. Organizations must also have a strong policy in place to curb fraudulent documents and also to establish a disciplinary procedure for when a fraudulent document is discovered.
The market for fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards is booming right now as organizations continue to implement COVID-19 vaccination mandates. In July of 2021, a woman in California was arrested and charged with distributing hundreds of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards and in October of 2021, 15-people were charged in connection with a scheme to sell fraudulent vaccine cards. Fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards may be purchased through a variety of social media sites, the black market, and other internet platforms. Employees have also been caught making their own homemade versions.
Under federal and certain state laws, using or falsifying vaccine records is illegal and each offense carries the potential for prison time. In addition, the use and forgery of government seals, such as those included on the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Card, is illegal carrying violations including a fine of up to $5,000 or up to five-years imprisonment. Many states have adopted similar laws.
As with any mandate that an organization implements, it is in both the organizations and the employee’s best interest for executives and managers to clearly communicate the guidelines of such mandates. Applying this concept to the COVID-19 vaccination mandates must start with the organization clearly communicating the required approach to vaccines and workplace safety in the form of policies, postings, meetings, and emails. This is also a great opportunity for the organization to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccination mandate policies are up-to-date with regards to the most current Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) guidelines. In addition, organizations should include wording within their COVID-19 vaccination policy that requires all employees to be truthful and accurate in all communications with the organization regarding their COVID-19 vaccination status. The policy should also make it clear that falsifying any information or documentation may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
Organizations that have decided to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine should note that it is extremely important that they ensure that their employees are producing legitimate vaccination documentation. This might seem like an obvious statement; however, it is very easy to begin going through the motions and not thoroughly inspecting documentation such as driver’s licenses, passports, and other forms of identification that are susceptible to fraud. One might ask themselves, “How do I recognize a fake COVID-19 vaccination card?” Let’s answer that!
The first step with any verification process is to familiarize yourself with the “real thing” which in this case is a legitimate COVID-19 vaccination card. This is important so that you are able to distinguish differences between what is a legitimate card and what is a fraudulent card. A few factors or items to consider when verifying a COVID-19 vaccination card are:
- The absence of information contained on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination record card including: manufacturer lot number, date and identification of the vaccine provider.
- Misspellings within the text on a “blank” vaccination card.
- Inconsistent dates (employers should familiarize themselves with the dates as required by the manufacturers between each shot and booster).
- The name of an unfamiliar manufacturer or provider.
- Thin-cut paper rather than the cardstock that the legitimate COVID-19 vaccination card is printed on.
- A card that appears to have been cut with scissors.
- A card that has been fully printed instead of at least partially handwritten.
These items above may be signs that further inquiry regarding the vaccination documentation’s legitimacy. For example, if the spelling of the specific vaccine that the employee received is incorrect, e.g., “Fizer”, or “Maderna”, this may be reasonable grounds to raise concerns about the authenticity of the card. Detailed documentation should be kept any time that a concern is raised about a COVID-19 vaccination card. Such documentation reflects insight into the non-discriminatory nature of the organization’s mandate and also documents the factors that led the organization to further inquire about the legitimacy of a COVID-19 vaccination card. When talking with an employee regarding the legitimacy of their COVID-19 vaccination card, it is important to always respect the personal and confidential nature of an employee’s vaccination status. As many of us have likely experienced, the pandemic and vaccine often tend to stir “strong” feelings. Thus, it is important to ask questions and seek information in a respectful and non-accusatory manner.
While organizations may not be able to discipline their employees with prison time, discipline up to and including termination of employment may be a necessary approach. As with any employment-related action, organizations must apply this discipline consistently from one employee to the next. Making an exception for one employee or even a small group of employees who submitted a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card raises the potential for discrimination e.g., age (40 and over), race, disability, sexual orientation, etc., and retaliation claims.
As more organizations implement COVID-19 vaccination mandates, organizations have seen rising numbers of COVID-19 vaccination card fraud. With this in mind, it is important for organizations to familiarize themselves with examples of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards, to be able to spot one not only to uphold a policy that has been put in place, but to also continue to keep the organization’s workplace a safe place for all employees to work.
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Written by: Patrick McKenna, SHRM-CP