- Many companies are now coming out in favor of vaccine mandates for return-to-office strategies.
- Surveys have found that the majority of workers support vaccine mandates.
- While employers that require vaccines are on solid legal ground; the best course of action is to survey employees and understand how they feel to avoid alienating or losing top talent.
The Biden administration has encouraged employers to incentivize their workers to get vaccinated and has announced that federal workers will have to get vaccinated or else face weekly testing and other measures as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread.
When the vaccine came out, workers were encouraged to get it, and then they would have the ability to be mask-free if they claimed to have done so – without showing proof of vaccination.
This method failed, and many companies are now coming out in favor of vaccine mandates for return-to-office strategies.
Elisa Lintemuth, an attorney with Dykema in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that mandating vaccinations could have benefits for both employers and employees. Vaccinations decrease the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and decrease employee health care costs.
Companies that are already mandating vaccines
Several software companies, including Adobe, VMware, and Asana, are mandating vaccines for employees who come into the office. Tech giants Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are also requiring employees to be vaccinated if they work on-site. While Vanguard isn’t mandating it, it is offering its 16,500 employees a $1,000 bonus if they receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In February, Glassdoor conducted a survey of more than 2,000 American employees and found that 70% supported making vaccines a requirement to return to the office. A newer poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that about 59% of remote workers favor vaccine requirements in their own workplaces, compared with 47% of those who are currently working in person. About 25% of workers (in person and remote) are opposed.
Although recent surveys show that a majority of employees support vaccine mandates at the office, not all employers are imposing them.
Littler Mendelson released a survey on Monday that showed 9% of employers are already mandating vaccines for at least some of their workers, and another 12% are planning to impose some sort of mandate in the near future.
Companies that will not mandate vaccines
Professional services company Genpact is not requiring employees to be vaccinated in order to return to the office, but is strongly encouraging everyone who can to get vaccinated. CVS is requiring pharmacists, nurses, and other workers who have contact with patients to be vaccinated, but the company has not required the vaccine for other employees, such as cashiers.
Amazon doesn’t mandate vaccines for any of its employees, and Walmart requires vaccinations for office workers but not store employees. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors have said they are not requiring the vaccine either, according to the AP.
Concerns employers may have over mandating the COVID-19 vaccine
- Are entities allowed to mandate the vaccine?
- How can they verify that someone has been vaccinated?
- How do they respond if someone refuses to be vaccinated?
Employers that require vaccines are actually on solid legal ground. Private companies and government employers can generally require workers to be vaccinated against viruses and diseases as a condition of working there.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave the COVID-19 vaccine full approval, which should aid in an uptick in vaccination rates, but many people are still hesitant. Some employers were reluctant to require it because it had yet to receive FDA full approval, but that is no longer a viable reason.
Concerns workers may have if the the COVID-19 vaccine is mandated
Some workers may feel that their company mandating vaccines is a violation of their rights, and might not want to come back into the office or even stay with their company. On the other hand, if a company doesn’t require workers to be vaccinated before returning to the office, some people who are uncomfortable coming back might choose to leave as well. A survey can give employers insight into the potential impact of doing one versus the other.
Sheeva Ghassemi-Vanni, a partner in the employment practices and litigation groups of the Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West, said that some employees feel there is a certain “big brother” aspect to requiring a vaccination in the workplace. She advises employers to survey their employees to find out what they want.
What if workers refuse the vaccine?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t prohibit employers from requiring all employees who physically enter the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. But employers that require vaccinations must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other workplace laws.
Some employers are firing workers who won’t get the vaccine and others are requiring unvaccinated employees to submit to weekly testing and take other safety precautions. If an employee refuses to receive a vaccine, an employer should evaluate the risk that the objection poses, and consider whether a reasonable accommodation can be made – like allowing the employee to work remotely or take a leave of absence.