Q: Our senior leadership team couldn’t believe the hostility that erupted when we told our employees if they weren’t vaccinated by Sept. 15, we’d consider they had voluntarily resigned. Several of them emailed lengthy rants to every member of the management team. Others came into our offices crying and went home in tears.
Then, like magic, the protests stopped. We thought it might have to do with the FDA approving Pfizer, or someone talking sense to the 11 employees who hadn’t wanted to get vaccinated.
We breathed a sigh of relief. A few days ago, our office manager got suspicious. She looked up phony vaccination cards. Is this really a thing? If so, this torques us. What can we do about it? Is it best to let this go and consider their actions a stalemate?
Fake card reality
According to a recent news segment on NPR, a woman calling herself AntiVaxMomma began selling fake vaccination cards in May. She sold them via Instagram for $200 each. According to The Associated Press, other online accounts sold sham cards for prices ranging from $25 to $200. Federal agents seized more than 3,000 fake vaccination cards printed with the Centers for Disease Control Prevention logo and shipped from Shenzhen, China.
What those buying these black-market cards don’t realize is buying a counterfeit card can land them in prison for up to five years because violates federal law (Title 18 United States Code, Section 1017) against the unauthorized use of an office government agency’s seal. The Manhattan District Attorney filed charges for Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree against 13 employees who purchased AntiVaxMomma’s cards.
What employers can do
You can assess if your employees’ vaccine cards are legitimate or false. Ask to inspect the actual cards. The cards should be thicker than thin paper and include some handwriting. Given how the vaccination rollouts occurred, with the Moderna and Pfizer shots being given weeks apart, it’s unlikely that the same provider administered both doses. The handwriting on each dose should be different.
If you suspect fake vaccination cards, you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or report your suspicion to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services at oig.hhs.gov or 800-HHS-TIPS.4
You can also call “stalemate” and let the situation go. If you take this route, remember that few secrets exist for long in the workplace. One of your other employees, uncomfortable with unvaccinated coworkers, may report the situation.
What you could have done ahead of time
As a country, we’re divided over vaccines. According to recent research, 44% of employees state they would consider leaving jobs if their employer initiated a vaccine mandate. Another 38% of employees would consider leaving their jobs if their employer doesn’t enact a vaccine mandate.
When an employer called me and asked what to do, explaining they want to mandate vaccinations and feared an employee backlash, I asked them to select two employees, one who clearly opposed the vaccine mandate and another unvaccinated employee who’d rather not get vaccinated, and have both call me.
Here’s what I learned. The employee who opposed the mandate cited many research studies that I looked upon the Internet when on the phone with her. Some seemed legitimate. Others provided disinformation I knew to be false. Many weren’t research, but opinion pieces. She said “none of the unvaccinated employees” would stay if the employer imposed a mandate. I asked “none?” and she responded, “NONE” and said, “we won’t resign, we’ll force them to fire us, and we’ll sue.”
The other employee said he and others felt uncertain. He also said both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees felt intimidated by anti-vax employees and afraid to challenge anti-vaxxers who often spoke up during breakroom and company meetings.
I suggested the employer confidentially survey their employees and learn all employees’ views toward a vaccine mandate and then publish the results. I said the survey results might surprise the anti-vax employees.
I suggested they then outline to all employees the benefits they feel a vaccine mandate may bring and ask for and consider the employees’ input. While this employer may ultimately face employee resistance, giving all employees two opportunities to provide their views ahead of the decision removes some of the “top-down” feeling.