Business/Economy

There are many factors to weigh for employers deciding whether to mandate vaccines, but that’s just the beginning.

Employers face a hard decision — whether to mandate vaccinations.

Many employers have taken the plunge. Amtrack, CNN, Facebook, Ford, Chevron, Microsoft, Citigroup, the Walt Disney Company, United Airlines, UPS, Cisco, The Washington Post, Deloitte and Frontier Airlines require all onsite employees to get vaccinated.

Other employers hesitate. They worry they’ll lose employees who don’t want the vaccine or won’t work for an employer that orders them to get a shot to keep a job.

If you’re an employer struggling with this decision, you need to decide which risk you’re more willing to take. In today’s tight labor market, can you handle losing employees who may quit rather than get vaccinated? What risks do you face if you allow a significant number of unvaccinated employees to work for you?

Here’s what you need to consider.

COVID-19 poses an ongoing threat to your employees’ health and your ongoing business operations. What if one or more of your employees becomes seriously ill or a widespread infection forces you to temporarily shutter operations? Employees who contract COVID-19 miss work for 10 business days. Unvaccinated employees exposed to coworkers with COVID-19 may need to quarantine and miss 14 days of work.

Due to the delta variant, employees in the U.S. are at high risk of COVID-19 infection. For a variety of reasons, Alaska has recently led the country in COVID transmission rates.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection by a factor of five. Those exposed to COVID-infected, unvaccinated individuals are almost three times more likely to be infected than individuals exposed to vaccinated individuals who have contracted COVID-19. Unvaccinated employees pose a heightened risk to employees with compromised immune systems, which could create employer liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Employers have options other than the mandate. They can allow unvaccinated employees to work remotely or to get tested weekly or twice weekly so that COVID-infected employees don’t enter the workplace. They can impose premium health care coverage surcharges for unvaccinated employees.

Employers that fear employees quitting in protest of vaccination mandates may want to test actual employee sentiment with employee surveys. While some employees refuse vaccinations, other employees hesitate to work alongside unvaccinated employees. According to a September 2021 Harvard Business Review article, a recent poll showed “a majority of employees favor vaccination mandates to improve workplace safety.”

Employers that decide to mandate vaccination need to develop straightforward policies and procedures, including their criteria for granting exemptions. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires U.S. employees to provide exemptions to employees with underlying medical or sincerely held religious beliefs, the EEOC guidelines allow employers to terminate employees if their unvaccinated status creates an “undue hardship” or would make the workplace unsafe.

Employers that elect a vaccination mandate need to provide employees clear a clear, easy-to-understand reasons for their decision, such as the health and safety of all employees. Since it can take six weeks from the first injection for those who receive a vaccine requiring two injections to be fully vaccinated, employers need to communicate their plan to issue a vaccination mandate at least six weeks before it’s implemented.

Finally, the Biden administration has asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to mandate that employers with 100 or more employees ensure all employees are fully vaccinated or submit to mandatory masking and weekly testing. This mandate comes into effect on Jan. 4.

Because OSHA’s focus is the workplace, those who work exclusively outdoors or from home don’t need to become vaccinated unless their employer mandates vaccinations. OSHA hasn’t yet extended the ruling to employers with less than 100 employees.

Starting Dec. 5, 2021, employers are required to provide up to four hours of paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated, as well as paid sick leave for them to recover from side effects. Also starting Dec. 5, employers must require unvaccinated employees to be masked. Employers must also maintain documentation of their employees’ vaccination status. Employers can read the full requirements online.

Mandate or no mandate, it’s a hard decision. Each employer has to decide to leave the vaccination decision to individual employees or to mandate vaccinations.

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