This week’s headlines highlight how the fourth COVID19 surge among the unvaccinated in the US is shifting plans by employers to recall workers to the office after Labor Day and explore whether employers should require workers to vaccinated. Companies need to accept that COVI19 is endemic. They must create a hybrid work environment for a high percentage of office workers and provide safe conditions for those who can’t work remotely. However, the time has come for employers to require vaccinations for employees who must go to the workplace. Encouragement is no longer enough.
In yesterday’s edition of USA Today, Dr. Ezekial J. Emanuel, Matthew Guido, and Amaya Diana made a compelling case for employers to require vaccinations. They pointed out that the US has made COVID19 vaccines widely accessible, free, and available at almost any local pharmacy or pop-up site. The US government and state health officials have spared no expense to encourage vaccinations, presenting a scientific case and combating misinformation. Still, only 50 percent of Americans are vaccinated, and COVID19 is surging among the unvaccinated, threatening the US recovery.
The US federal government cannot mandate vaccinations. State governments do have this power, but vaccinations have become a political football. Forty states have introduced legislation which, if passed, would limit vaccine mandates. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made it clear that federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring employees who physically enter the workplace to get vaccinated. (Medical and religious exemptions apply, of course). Courts have upheld vaccine mandates multiple times, such as with the Indiana University’s mandate that all students are vaccinated for the fall semester and Houston Methodist Hospital requirement that all employees be vaccinated. The hospital now has a 99 percent vaccination rate.
In his ruling, as reported by NPR, Judge Hughes called the plaintiffs’ claim against Houston Methodist Hospital that currently available COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental and dangerous,” an argument that is both false and irrelevant. “Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker,” Hughes wrote, adding that the “press-release style of the complaint” fails to specify what illegal acts the plaintiffs were alleged to have been asked to perform.
The judge also denounced the plaintiffs for equating the vaccine mandate to forced experimentation by the Nazis against Jewish people during the Holocaust. “Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes said. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”
The movement for vaccine mandates is spreading rapidly. The USA Today authors point out that nearly 600 universities have required students to get COVID19 vaccinations this fall. In Phoenix, AZ, where I live, both Banner Health and Honor Health hospital chains are requiring employees to be vaccinated by November 1, impacting nearly 100,000 workers. Nationwide, new employees at United and Delta airlines must be vaccinated.
Later yesterday, the mandates spread to three large public employers and a bar owner alliance. The Mayor of New York, Bill De Blasio, and Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, announced that their public employees will have to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID19 tests. The Department of Veteran Affairs also announced a vaccine or COVID19 testing requirement. The SF Bar Owner Alliance, announced Monday that as of July 29, it would require proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to enter one of the over 500 establishments it represents in San Francisco.
As always, when leading a workforce, implementing a new policy is as much about the “how” as the “what.”
Employers should begin by explaining the rationale behind their decision, and that the paramount reason is the health and safety of all employees, customers, and suppliers who enter their workplaces. They also need to present the case for vaccination as articulated by the Center for Disease Control. The provisional approval by the Food and Drug Administration is not a reason to avoid the vaccines. Moreover, the biggest threat to the US recovery and the success of each business is the new surge of COVID19. Nobody wants more economic shutdowns and employee layoffs.
Employers should also implement measures which make it convenient for their employees to get vaccinated, such as offering paid time off to obtain a vaccine and recovery from any side effects, such as fatigue and fever.
Finally, organizations that donate to politicians at the federal, state, and local levels should seriously consider not making contributions to politicians that perpetuate misinformation about COVID19 vaccines, those that propose and pass legislation which prevent companies from requiring vaccinations for their employees, and limit the ability of universities and school districts to require vaccinations for teachers, staff, and students.
Are you looking for an easy-to-use guide, proven by experience, for implementing a hybrid workforce? Do you know how to redesign the office to be a safe place for those required by job duties to be at work, and for meetings, training, and building relationships? Would you like to make your workforce more productive, loyal, and innovation, while saving costs? Do you want to reduce turnover and improve your ability to recruit employees? I invite you to contact me or read my article, Seven practical lessons to make a hybrid workforce engaged, productive, and innovative!
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary innovation cultures, leaders, and teams.