REPUBLICA PRESS Your Business & Political News Source
Health Advocate or Big Brother? Companies Weigh Requiring Vaccines.
As American companies prepare to bring large numbers of workers back to the office in the coming months, executives are facing one of their most delicate pandemic-related decisions: Should they require employees to be vaccinated?
Take the case of United Airlines. In January, the chief executive, Scott Kirby, indicated at a company town hall that he wanted to require all of his roughly 96,000 employees to get coronavirus vaccines once they became widely available.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Kirby said, before urging other corporations to follow suit.
It has been four months. No major airlines have made a similar pledge — and United Airlines is waffling.
herd immunity has slipped as the pace of vaccinations has slowed.
But making vaccinations mandatory could risk a backlash, and perhaps even litigation, from those who view it as an invasion of privacy and a Big Brother-like move to control the lives of employees.
survey of 1,339 employers conducted by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, 44 percent of U.S. respondents said they planned to mandate vaccinations for their companies. In a separate poll of 446 employers conducted by Willis Towers Watson, a risk-management firm, 23 percent of respondents said they were “planning or considering requiring employees to get vaccinated for them to return to the worksite.”
two hours of pay for each dose they receive, while emphasizing it would not make doses mandatory. Target is offering a $5 coupon to all customers and employees who receive their vaccination at a CVS at Target location.
Supreme Court ruled about a century ago that states could require vaccinations for children attending public school. And universities like Rutgers have instituted mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.
But the pandemic brings up a host of complications that companies typically prefer to avoid, involving the private lives, religious preferences and medical histories of employees, such as whether an employee is pregnant, breastfeeding or immuno-compromised, information they may not want to reveal.
Major union groups, like the A.F.L.-C.I.O., have not aggressively pushed the issue either. They are facing dueling forces — standing up for individual worker’s rights on the one hand and protecting one another on the other. Unions have also been arguing for stronger workplace safety measures, efforts that could be complicated by companies’ arguing that mandatory vaccinations reduce the need for such accommodations. The return to work protocols negotiated between the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers and Hollywood’s unions, for instance, will not include mandatory vaccinations.
“There are going to be some people who may have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine or for not wanting to talk about it,” said Carrie Altieri, who works in communications for IBM’s People and Culture business. “It’s not an easy issue at this point.” IBM is working with New York State on a digital passport linking a person’s vaccination records to an app to show businesses, like performance venues, that may require vaccination. It is not, though, requiring vaccinations for its employees.
already struggling to hire workers, mandating vaccinations could make hiring even more difficult. And there are questions of logistics and execution. How can companies confirm the veracity of those who say they’ve been vaccinated?
Companies may need to hire additional staff, potentially with medical training, to handle such tasks, which could saddle businesses — particularly small ones — with burdensome costs.
Vivint, a home security company based in Utah with 10,000 employees, began offering vaccines in its on-site clinic this week, after the state approved the company to distribute 100 shots a week to its staff. It paid $3,000 for the necessary medical-grade freezer.
“We’re not requiring employees to get vaccinated, but we’re highly encouraging it,” said Starr Fowler, senior vice president for human resources. “For a lot of our employees, particularly those that are younger, the easier that we make it for them, the more likely they’re going to do it.”
Salesforce is introducing a policy in certain U.S. offices, including Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, where up to 100 fully vaccinated employees can volunteer to work on designated floors. The New York Stock Exchange issued a memo to trading firms saying they would be allowed to increase their staff on the floor, provided all the employees have been vaccinated.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance in December stating that employers were indeed legally permitted to require employees to be vaccinated before they return to offices. But the threat of litigation still looms.
plans to open its offices on May 17 on a voluntary basis, said it strongly encouraged vaccines for employees — barring any religious or health restrictions — but would not require them. A spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, which has not guided employees either way, declined to comment.
One potential path for companies seeking a middle ground is to mandate the shots only for new hires. Still, there is a fine line between encouraging and requiring shots — sometimes resulting in conflicting messages to employees.
The investment bank Jefferies sent a memo to employees in early February stating “verification of vaccination will be required to access the office.” On Feb. 24 came a follow-up memo. “We did not intend to make it sound as if we are mandating vaccines,” it said.
Reporting was contributed by Rebecca Robbins, Sapna Maheshwari, Kellen Browning, Niraj Chokshi and Eshe Nelson.