Employers have lost patience with workers who are not vaccinated.
Many employers used information campaigns, bonuses, and other incentives for months to motivate their workers to get the COVID-19 shot. Employers are increasingly imposing stricter rules that make it harder for workers to refuse to get COVID-19 shots. This includes mandating employees to be tested regularly and making it mandatory for them to comply with mandates.
The federal government, New York’s state governments, and tech giants Google, Facebook, and Walt Disney Co. are some of the employers that have also started requiring vaccines.
But the new measures are unlikely to affect many of the millions of unvaccinated Americans.
Many of the companies that are requiring shots have mostly office workers who are already largely vaccinated and are reluctant to work alongside those who aren’t.
However, large companies that rely on low income blue-collar workers (food manufacturers, warehouses and other stores chains) are refusing to comply with mandates out of fear of driving away employees or worsening the labor shortages they are currently facing.
Tyson Foods reported that half of its U.S. workforce, 56,000, has had shots since February, when the poultry and meat processor hosted over 100 vaccination events. However, the company stated that it does not intend to place a mandate on the other half.
Walmart and Amazon, two of the nation’s largest private employers, declined to mandate their hourly employees to be vaccinated. Instead, they continued to rely on strategies like bonuses and onsite shots. But in a potentially powerful signal, Walmart said employees at its headquarters will be required to get vaccinated by Oct. 4.
The federal government is the largest employer in the country and has set the precedent. President Biden announced last week that all federal employees and contractors must get vaccinated or put up with weekly testing and lose privileges such as official travel.
Federal government officials have stated that they will pay for the weekly testing. Insurance may cover some testing, but not all.
Biden’s decision may inspire other employers to adopt similar rules by signaling that they have solid legal grounds, according to Brian Kropp, chief research officer at Gartner’s Human Resources practice.
Kropp stated that some companies are faced with complex considerations beyond legalities. This includes deep resistance to vaccines in many of the states they operate.
Kropp stated that Walmart and other retailers might find it difficult to justify vaccine requirements for workers, while customers are permitted to remain unvaccinated. Because of the difficulties in verifying their status, stores have avoided requiring vaccines for customers.
Gartner surveys show that less than 10% of employers intend to require employees to have vaccinated.
A shift is beginning amid frustration at stagnant vaccination rates and concern over the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.
The U.S. reached Biden’s goal to give at least one shot to 70% American adults on Monday. However, it was a month late amid a strong COVID-19 surge. This is driving hospital cases in some areas to their highest level since the outbreak started. President Biden had hoped to achieve his goal by July Fourth.
Union Square Hospitality Group is now requiring customers and employees to get vaccinated by Sept. 7.
After a meeting in which “the thing that stoodout was anger and frustration toward vaccine holdouts,” founder Ben Bleiman stated, the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance (a group of around 300 bars) made a similar decision.
Some companies are worried that mandates for vaccines will force workers to leave, but the pandemic is also driving absenteeism. Bleiman stated that he had to close his bar after his bartender who was fully vaccinated tested positive for the pandemic and couldn’t find a replacement.
Employers are finding it easier to require vaccines than to try and come up with new rules for social distancing and masks for the few unvaccinated workers.
BlackRock, the global investment management company, will allow only vaccinated workers to enter its U.S. offices. People can wear masks, according to local health guidelines, and they can sit together and socialize without restriction. According to the company, 85% of its U.S. employees have been vaccinated or are in the process of getting shot.
Matthew Putman, chief executive at Nanotronics in New York, said that he was racked with anxiety over the decision to mandate vaccinations for his 100+ employees. Although most of his employees were already vaccinated as it turned out, he was still concerned about having to fire any of the unvaccinated.
“I hate this thought. Putman stated that if it must happen, it must happen. “I’ve lost a lot of sleep due to this, but not as much as I lost because of the fear of infection.”
The potential for employee backlash could be tested with other mandates.
For example, hospitals and nursing home chains are now requiring the vaccine. So far, such mandates have survived legal challenges. More than 150 employees at a Houston hospital system who refused to get the COVID-19 shot were fired or resigned after a judge dismissed an employee lawsuit over the requirement.
Atria Senior Living, which manages more than 200 senior living communities in the United States, was one of the first to require vaccines for its employees in January.
It worked. Nearly 99% are vaccinated. Only a small fraction of Atria’s 10,000 employees refused to vaccinate, Chairman John Moore stated.
“Our residents deserve to live in a vaccinated environment. Our staff deserves to work in a vaccinated environment,” Moore said.