Business/Economy

We required our employees get vaccinated. Now some are threatening to quit.

Q: Your article last week reported that many employers, including Facebook, Google, Tyson Foods, the Walt Disney Company, Houston Methodist Medical Center, United Airlines, Cisco, DoorDash, the Washington Post and Frontier Airlines, require all onsite employees to get vaccinated. That same day, we learned the Pentagon would require all active-duty troops to become vaccinated by Sept. 15.

That, plus our history — having to shut down for two weeks when one of our employees tested positive for COVID, and the flack we were getting from vaccinated employees who have to wear masks because of a handful of unvaccinated employees — made us decide to require all employees to get vaccinated.

We didn’t expect the unglued reaction that came from our unvaccinated employees. We received repeated texts and emails from employees telling us that forcing them to be vaccinated with an experimental drug was a body violation equivalent to rape. These employees fear the vaccine will change their DNA, cause them potential irreversible damage and make them infertile. They told us we were behaving like the Nazis that experimented on concentration-camp prisoners during the Holocaust. They’re threatening to quit.

Are we making a mistake to require vaccination?

Answer:

Are you making a mistake? If you are, so are an increasing number of employers that require all employees to become vaccinated.

In addition to the list you gave above, CNN, Uber, the Atria Senior Living (over 200 senior living communities with 10,000 employees), Saks Fifth Avenue, Ascension Health, Microsoft and the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance (300 bars) have joined the employers noted in last week’s article. Walmart and Walgreens will require every corporate employee to get vaccinated. Netflix will require COVID-19 vaccines for its U.S. production casts and those who come into contact with them.

Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, Morgan Stanley, Twitter, Equinox, Lyft, Capital One, The New York Times, Citigroup, Salesforce, and Uber will only allow vaccinated employees to return to the office. Amtrak, Walgreens, and Goldman Sachs will require all employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

Federal regulations support your decision. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that U.S. employers can require all employees entering a workplace to be vaccinated as long as the employers provide accommodations for those remaining unvaccinated due to a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs.

Recently, however, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by more than one hundred Houston Methodist employees that challenged their employer’s vaccination mandate. Houston Methodist, which employs over 26,000 individuals, was one of the first employers to say a vaccinated workforce was essential to ensure patient safety. Their employees argued that requiring vaccinations forces employees to become human “guinea pigs” and some likened forced vaccination to Nazi experimentation.

[Related: Employees were worried about the Delta variant, so we reinstituted our mask policy. Then the fighting began.]

The U.S. District judge upheld Houston Methodist’s vaccine requirement, ruling the lawsuit’s legal assertions lacked merit. He called the Nazi comparison reprehensible. This marks the first time a federal court has ruled on the legality of an employer mandating COVID-19 vaccination. The judge’s ruling noted that the employee plaintiffs could choose to refuse vaccination and work elsewhere.

Although lawmakers in 23 states have proposed legislation to block employer vaccination mandates, these bills have faltered as they threaten an employer’s legal responsibility to maintain a safe workplace.

Meanwhile, online disinformation continues to turbocharge many employees’ fears about the vaccine. Before you lose valued employees, consider whether you can accommodate those who choose to avoid vaccination for personal reasons, along with those with valid exemptions. Can they work remotely or wear protective gear? Or, for safety reasons and because your customers and other employees want the protection of a vaccinated workforce, will you follow the lead of the Texas federal judge and regretfully accept those employees’ resignations?


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