As vaccine mandates become the norm for workers to return to offices, a complicated challenge is emerging for employers: how best to verify vaccination records.

A growing number of companies, from Facebook to Google and Salesforce, have implemented employee vaccine mandates for the office amid the spread of the delta variant in recent weeks. Vaccine mandates aren’t solely hitting office workers. Meat processors Tyson Foods, United Airlines, and state governments including New York and California are all requiring their workers to get inoculated.

Some companies are relying on apps that store health records but require humans to verify the details. Others are turning to software tools that provide other offerings, such as image recognition, contact tracing, and the management of employee health records. Some tech companies are still simply asking employees to provide accurate information rather than wrestling with the messy world of disjointed health records and privacy laws.

“Frankly, it’s a mess,” said Margaret Rimmler, vice president of marketing at ReturnSafe, an Austin-based start-up that helps businesses manage their office safety protocols. “Everyone got their shot in a different place.”

Pentagon seeks to mandate vaccines for all active-duty military personnel
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will seek a mandate to require that all service members get a coronavirus vaccine by mid-September, according to a Aug. 9 memo. (Reuters)

Google, which employs more than 144,000 people, has turned to membership-based healthcare provider One Medical as one of the services it uses to verify the U.S. vaccination records of its contract workers and employees, according to an internal email obtained by The Washington Post. Workers are being asked to send proof of vaccination to One Medical via its app or web portal. Starting Aug. 9, Google began conducting “spot checks” to ensure that only vaccinated workers are on-site at Bay Area facilities — a policy expected to expand to other areas.

One Medical uses a team of human reviewers to manually review each vaccination card. The company said it has digitally integrated with “several” state vaccine databases, from which it can pull patient records.

Software tools offer companies various vaccine passports and verifier services to aid with verification. Some, like Excelsior Pass, which was developed by IBM and implemented in New York state, are public-private partnerships, while others are owned and run by private companies.

San Francisco-based start-up Superhuman recently paid for ReturnSafe to help verify the vaccination status of its workforce, which totals about 100 employees. After an employee uploads a vaccination card to the app, a human at ReturnSafe checks to make sure the record matches the employee, that the person had two doses of an approved vaccine, and that at least two weeks have passed since the last vaccination. The app notifies an employee’s status within 24 hours to Superhuman’s HR team.

“Having a fully vaccinated office is the safest way to have an open office,” said Kristen Hayward, head of people at Superhuman.

ReturnSafe, which has about 70 clients including the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and the Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado, said demand has soared in the past couple of months as more companies seek one or several of the start-up’s offerings. In addition to reviewing uploaded Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cards, ReturnSafe also offers self-attestation tools and has the ability to link to select health systems. It can also track coronavirus test results, contact-trace with devices or through employee testimony, and control badge access based on whether an employee meets all health requirements.

“Now CEOs of Fortune 500s are drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘This is our protocol,’” Jason Story, ReturnSafe’s co-founder, said about vaccine mandates and testing. “It starts to get complex and unwieldy for HR to run the business.”

Superhuman implemented its vaccine mandate for all of its employees who work from the office in June. Hayward said the company turned to ReturnSafe to help collect the sensitive data.

“It’s best practice to separate employee health data from any of our other system of records to ensure it’s stored securely and access is on a need-to-know basis,” she said.

A Tyson Foods team member receives a coronavirus vaccine from health officials at the company's Wilkesboro, N.C., facility. Tyson Foods will require all of its U.S. employees to get vaccinated. (Melissa Melvin/AP)

The Commons Project Foundation developed its own digital vaccine verification app, called the SMART Health Card Verifier. The app allows businesses to scan vaccine provider-issued QR codes and verifies that the dates are valid and the issuer is from a trusted provider. JP Pollak, co-founder and chief architect of the foundation, said that overall, verifying vaccinations is a complex process.

“Our health system is really fragmented,” he said. “Pharmacies have their own systems, health systems, primary health-care providers — they all have their own systems.”

Last year, Clear — known for its program that grants travelers expedited airport entry — debuted Health Pass, a mobile app that helps employers verify the vaccination status of their employees. The software can read and verify QR codes, double-check records from big vaccine providers like Walgreens or the Atlantic Health System, and uses image-recognition technology to validate uploaded pictures of CDC cards. The process is somewhat “imperfect,” as a person could find a blank CDC card and claim it, said Catesby Perrin, Clear’s executive vice president of growth. But Health Pass is expected to help mitigate any obvious forms of fraud, he added.

Perrin said interest in Health Pass has been rapidly growing in recent weeks, but declined to disclose details. More than 60 entities currently use Health Pass, including New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group and the state of Hawaii.

“The realization with the acceleration of the delta variant is that … this complication isn’t going away,” Perrin said. Covid “is a true corporate risk.”

Aiming to capitalize on privacy concerns, digital ID service Proxy created Proxy Health. The software gives employees a mobile digital health pass, which companies can scan with a tablet at a building’s entrance. Companies can then deny access to employees who lack proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. Because the app stores employees’ health information on their respective phones, Proxy Health keeps the data out of the hands of employers. Simon Ratner, Proxy’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said that what he hears the most from employers trying to figure out their return-to-work plans is confusion.

“They have to figure it out on their own,” he said. “Most are not professionals in this field and … most of them are honestly lost.”

Some tech companies, such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Lyft, are opting to trust the honor system, placing the onus on their workforce to provide valid vaccination records. If employees share either a QR code or a CDC card, they are being held accountable that the information provided is indeed theirs and that it’s accurate.

Lyft said a dedicated team member will verify employees’ names, types of vaccines, that they received the correct number of doses and dates. It does not plan to use any verification software.

“Since there’s no standardized way to prove or disprove the validity of vaccination cards … we’re relying on the trust we have in our team members,” said Ashley Adams, a spokeswoman for Lyft.

AT&T, which announced its mandate on Aug. 12, is requiring employees to upload a copy of their vaccination card to enter one of its offices. The company said it will not review employees’ cards “unless there is a concern” that the code of conduct has been violated.

New York-based Gather, which provides consulting services, said the company is requiring workers who want to go to the office to show their vaccine status via the New York state app Excelsior Pass or by providing their CDC card. Citing Gather’s culture that is based on trust, Justin Tobin, founder, and president, said the company doesn’t plan to verify the validity of those records.

“Am I going to say [a fake] is impossible?” he said. “Of course not. Am I worried about it? No.”

The honor system is tricky to manage. CNN recently fired three employees for turning up to the office unvaccinated. The policy also has implications for whether employees feel safe at work.

Though verification software may add another layer of reassurance for companies and their workers, it may not solve all of the problems associated with companies’ return-to-work plans. The coronavirus has created a multitude of hurdles that may require companies to completely rethink how they manage information and health concerns.

For example, at Google, some workers are worried that they may not know if others in their proximity were exempt from getting vaccinated, said a member of Alphabet Workers Union, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. On top of that, Google hasn’t been clear about what counts as an exemption, said the union member. Google declined to comment on the matter.

“If I had to choose between my loved ones and Google, that’s an easy choice,” said the union member, who has some personal health risks as well as at-risk family members. “Google The majority of U.S. households paid no federal income taxes in 2020, a spike driven by the pandemic-induced economic downturn and multiple rounds of tax-based assistance. The trend is likely to continue in 2021.

Nearly 107 million households — or 61% of U.S. households — owed no federal income taxes in 2020, according to estimates by The Tax Policy Center, marking a 40% increase from 2019 when 43.6% of households didn’t pay taxes.

“Even though those numbers are very dramatic, they are only temporary,” Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, told Yahoo Money. “What happened was because of COVID and then because of the policy response to COVID. Many more people did not pay federal income tax in 2020.”

One reason for the drastic drop is the financial hardship many Americans experienced last year. More than 20 million workers lost their jobs in 2020 with low-income workers hit hardest. Many of the low-wage workers paid little income taxes before the pandemic, and the drop in income meant they owed even less money to the Internal Revenue Service.

The government response to the pandemic further contributed to the lower number of income taxpayers.

The three rounds of stimulus checks — two of which were sent out in 2020 — were designed as a refundable tax credit, effectively reducing a household’s tax liability. The first $1,200 stimulus payment reached over 160 million people and the following rounds helped a similar number.

“It was obviously an important piece,” Gleckman said. “These were very significant tax credits to people and these were dollar-for-dollar reductions in the number of tax people paid.”

The government response to the pandemic will continue to reduce the share of people paying income taxes in 2021, according to The Tax Policy Center, which estimates that 57% of households are expected to pay no federal income taxes this year.

The expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — both refundable credits — will likely reduce or eliminate many households' liability for 2021.

“A lot of this was for families with children who benefited quite a lot from the expansion of those credits,” Gleckman said. “As you go up the economic income ladder, fewer and fewer people are non-payers.”

About 99.9% of households in the lowest quintile — those making below $28,000 — will effectively pay no federal income taxes in 2021. Around 75% of households in the second quintile — those families making between $28,000 and $55,000 — also won’t pay any taxes for the 2021 tax year.

‘These people did pay other taxes’

While those households paid no federal income taxes and potentially little to no state income taxes in 2020, the majority of U.S. households pay other taxes.

Nearly 80% of U.S. households paid either federal income taxes or payroll taxes in 2020, the report found. Additionally, many people are subject to state and local sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, or state income taxes.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: The Internal Revenue Service headquarters building appeared to be mostly empty April 27, 2020 in the Federal Triangle section of Washington, DC. The IRS called about 10,000 volunteer employees back to work Monday at 10 of its mission critical locations to work on taxpayer correspondence, handling tax documents, taking telephone calls and other actions related to the tax filing season. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“These people did pay other taxes,” Gleckman said. “If you worked at all, you pay payroll taxes, you almost certainly paid sales taxes.”

The spike in people not paying federal income taxes is only temporary, occurring only in 2020 and 2021, and then should return to normal levels, Gleckman said. In general, having an elevated share of people who don’t pay federal income taxes could lead to a public that’s less engaged in policy and how the government is working, according to Gleckman.

“If this were permanent and you had a situation where 60% of the public wasn't paying federal income tax, that has some very important effects not just economic, but societal effects,” he said. ”It means that they have a lot less stake in the game.” will never be the one I pick.”