With multiple COVID-19 vaccines now approved by the FDA for emergency use, many businesses are deciding what their role in the rollout is and how the process of COVID-19 vaccination could affect them.
Many companies report customers who are hesitant to let technicians into their homes, employees absent and companies temporarily shutting down due to exposure, and concerns over the health and safety of their people. So, it’s easy to see the benefit of requiring employees to get vaccinated.
However, much of the population has expressed fear of the vaccine, both due to its rapid production speed and the conspiracy theories that emerged about it. Polls show 30-50 per cent of the population is unlikely to take a vaccine. So, it’s also easy to see how requiring COVID-19 vaccines of employees could decrease morale and even cause potential legal problems.
Is it legal?
The short answer is yes. According to the National Law Review, no laws exist that would prevent an employer from making COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment and suggests that the requirement can be viewed in the same light as mandatory flu vaccinations. Since most states in the U.S. are “at-will” states, an employer could mandate that employees get vaccinated or lose their jobs.
There are exceptions, of course. Those with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and those with sincere, established religious beliefs protected under the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) that conflict with COVID-19 vaccination may be exempt from the requirement unless it causes extreme hardship for the employer. But extreme hardship only exists if reasonable accommodations cannot be made, like wearing a mask or working from home.
However, some have raised concerns with the fact that the vaccines are currently only approved for emergency use. There is the potential, therefore, that lawyers could argue that requiring the COVID-19 vaccine while it is approved for emergency use is different from requiring a flu vaccine, which is fully FDA approved. According to The Guardian, Pfizer will apply for full approval in April, and when approved, it will render the emergency-use argument moot—and likely before vaccinations are widely available.
Require COVID-19 vaccines: Why do it
According to infectious disease experts, we need approximately 75 per cent of the population to take the vaccine in order to achieve success with it. Until we hit that 75 per cent mark, theatres, restaurants, sporting events, etc. will have to remain under the current pandemic regulations, meaning the economy is dependent upon vaccinations ending the virus’ spread and dominance. With so many people deciding not to take the vaccine, having businesses backing the vaccine would, no doubt, help boost the COVID-19 vaccination rate.
Requiring vaccinations also has the obvious benefit of protecting your employees, their families, your customers, and your own family. That also means reducing employee callouts and company downtime due to outbreaks or exposure. Not to mention being able to advertise that your technicians are all vaccinated offers a hefty competitive advantage.
Require COVID-19 vaccines: Why not to do it
In our most recent poll, 52 per cent of respondents said they will neither require nor recommend employees get a vaccine. The reasons are varied but come down to risk.
A major reason employers are against mandating vaccinations is they feel they are encroaching on employees’ freedoms and rights to choose what they do with their bodies. At the same time, if we require an employee to be vaccinated and that employee has a bad reaction to the shot, we risk not only feeling responsible for harming them, but also risk the employee attempting to prove us legally responsible.
By mandating vaccines, we also risk losing employees’ trust and lowering morale at a time when morale is universally low. As NORMI’s Doug Hoffman tells us in his State of the Industry interview, despite the current record unemployment levels, finding quality employees is still a struggle, and even rehired employees who were laid off during the shutdown are struggling to rise to their former productivity levels. Hoffman says, “They’re coming back into a different industry in some ways,” and forcing them to take a vaccine they do not trust, is not likely to instill loyalty to the company.
Where do we go?
Our best path is likely educating employees about the science behind the vaccine; explaining why it is important to the safety and wellbeing of the staff, the company, and the greater community; and recommending the vaccine rather than requiring it. This is the recommendation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as many lawyers and business experts, including Scott Tackett of Violand Management Associates, who recently discussed the issue in an episode of Straight Talk! with Jeff Cross.
With so many not wanting the vaccine, Tackett says, “The employer is going to be in the middle, so [we must] be very cognoscente of what this is going to create in our workplaces.
“My suggestion is that we, as employers, begin now, today, to communicate and discuss both the pros and cons of getting the vaccination. I would be very careful about using the term ‘mandate’ right now,” Tackett adds. “Hopefully we can provide good, timely, accurate information to all of our employees, get them involved, talk about the apparent lack of significant risk, and talk about the vaccination.”
If business leaders work to educate employees and lead them to vaccinating, it will, no doubt, help increase the COVID-19 vaccination rates across the board, which, in turn, will build back our economy, keep our people safe, and get us that much more quickly back to a sense of normalcy.
Until then, take care of yourselves and stay safe.