The U.S. is reopening much faster than most people thought possible. Leading corporations, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, have expedited their return-to-office plans.
The next big issue that needs to be addressed by companies is whether or not they’ll mandate employees to get vaccinated. Executives would most likely want to require workers to get their shots, as it would help their companies avoid potential legal liabilities over the chance of an infected person passing along Covid-19 to co-workers—who, in turn, could give it to family members. Having a fully vaccinated workforce would also make things easier with respect to alleviating the concerns of other workers.
The challenge leaders confront is that not everyone is convinced about getting an injection. About 17% of Americans, according to a study, are taking a wait-and-see approach toward vaccinations and roughly 20% aren’t inclined to get vaccinated. The states of Florida and North Dakota introduced legislation that would prohibit businesses from demanding that workers get vaccinated
Companies face unfamiliar and uncharted territory. The Covid-19 vaccines were approved by the FDA through an Emergency Use Authorization. This means, unlike past vaccinations, this new shot is given with an advisory that it’s completely voluntary.
Nevertheless, it seems that companies can legally require vaccines as a condition of employment. Although, there are certain exemptions. For instance, companies need to accommodate religious beliefs or medical conditions. One prominent executive recently weighed in on the topic. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a webcast last week that the company couldn’t yet require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest human resources membership group, “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has weighed in with guidance that answers some workplace vaccination questions. Employers may encourage or possibly require Covid-19 vaccinations, but policies must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other workplace laws, according to the EEOC.”
The EEOC said employers should evaluate four factors to determine whether a direct threat exists:
- The duration of the risk.
- The nature and severity of the potential harm.
- The likelihood that the potential harm will occur.
- The imminence of the potential harm.
It’s a tough call for managers. If an employee falls into the category in which they don’t or can’t be vaccinated, but could potentially be a health threat to colleagues, the supervisor has to come up with solutions. This could include making reasonable accommodations, such as isolating the person from others, which isn’t too practical or polite. They may elect to ask the unvaccinated person to work remotely. It could get complicated and uncomfortable. What should a pregnant woman do if she’s worried about taking the vaccine? It’s unfair for her to be forced to choose between a job or the health and welfare of both the mother and child.
The issue gets even more complicated when companies require their customers to be vaccinated. Airlines, sporting events, restaurants and cruise lines may call for vaccine passports. Like many issues lately, the decisions become politicized. Some groups will claim that they don’t want their rights and privacy abridged and others may feel uncomfortable and put-upon to be in close proximity with someone who could potentially spread the virus.
As companies are planning to soon have people back in the office by May, June or July, executives have to quickly figure out how to navigate these difficult decisions.
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