Should you require vaccines for your employees?

Covid vaccine vials on tray with syringes

Since last fall, when the federal government announced that it would soon require large companies to require their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, more and more businesses have begun requiring vaccinations, weekly testing, or a combination of the two.

But since the government formally withdrew that planned mandate last week, many employers are now left wondering how to proceed. Some large employers including GE and Starbucks have withdrawn their own planned mandates, while others such as Citigroup and Raytheon have announced they’re keeping theirs in place.

To help employers navigate the complex and changing landscape, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has offered advice on the pros and cons of requiring vaccines or testing, as well as the potential alternatives to vaccine mandates.

What are the pros of requiring vaccines or testing?

Vaccinations are one of the best tools for slowing the spread of COVID-19, and polls have shown that a most American workers do in fact favor vaccine mandates. In today’s competitive job market, that may mean that employers who do require vaccines will attract more candidates. Some labor economists believe there may be people worried about the virus who are currently not applying for jobs—but who might apply for positions at companies with a vaccine mandate in place. Another potential bonus for employers requiring vaccines is that they may be less likely to struggle labor shortages resulting from workers being out sick.

Even without the federal mandate, employment law experts stress that employers are still required to follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines about curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition, they do have to follow ever-changing state and local guidelines. In some cases, having a mandate in place for vaccines or weekly testing can simplify this responsibility.

What are the cons?

Although a (slim) majority of workers have said they do favor vaccine mandates at work, there are still plenty of Americans who have negative opinions of either the mandates or the vaccines. Just as requiring vaccines can help attract candidates in a tight labor market, it can also dissuade others from applying.  SHRM points out that some people who oppose vaccines or mandates can be particularly vocal and may spread negative publicity on social media or possibly stage in-person protests or labor disputes.

Another potential drawback to requiring either mandates or testing, also noted by SHRM, is that they may have to respond to religious and disability-related exemption requests, which can be time- and resource-consuming.

What are some alternatives?

A recent SHRM article lists several potential safety options instead of mandates, including:

  • Encouraging but not requiring employees to get vaccinated.
  • Incentivizing employees to get vaccinated by, for instance, offering cash bonuses for those who do get shots or tacking a surcharge onto health insurance premiums for those who don’t get shots.
  • Hosting on-site vaccination clinics for employees and their families.
  • Making in-the-office work optional or staggering shifts to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at one time.
  • Promoting social distancing within the workplace. This could include increasing separation between work areas, for instance.
  • Delaying return-to-the-workplace plans or suspending in-the-office work.
  • Requiring employees to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Banning unnecessary travel.
  • Postponing in-person work functions.
  • Providing additional time off to employees who are unable to work due to COVID-19 illness or exposure.
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