In recent weeks, scores of employers have announced vaccine mandates, with experts forecasting many more are to come in the wake of the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine and the ongoing spread of the Delta variant. A new survey from law firm Littler Mendelson likewise found increasing interest in vaccine mandates but highlighted a host of issues still weighing on the minds of employers hesitant to take that step.
Based on the firm’s survey of 1,630 in-house lawyers, C-suite executives and HR professionals nationwide, most employers (63%) surveyed are still encouraging, rather than requiring, vaccinations. However, of those that have not yet instituted a mandate, 46% report strongly considering such a move in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, while just 22% say they have firmly decided not to institute a mandate.
Yet, concerns abound.
In particular, employers are hesitating on mandates because of potential resistance from employees who are not in a protected category but refuse to be vaccinated (75%) and fears of the impact of a mandate on company culture and employee morale (68%). Both of these concerns also topped the list of employer worries about mandates in January. At the same time, they report being worried about keeping employees happy in today’s tight labor market; 60% of those surveyed fear the possible loss of staff and difficulty operating due to termination or resignation of employees who don’t want to be vaccinated.
The good news? Some concerns have lessened over the last few months. For example, just 36% of those surveyed are worried about legal liability if employees experience adverse reactions to vaccines, compared with 64% in January. Similarly, uncertainty about the vaccine’s effectiveness in limiting the spread of COVID-19 has been reduced to 10%, compared with 22% at the start of the year.
Devjani Mishra, a leader of Littler’s COVID-19 Task Force and co-leader of the firm’s Vaccination Working Group, says employers can navigate these concerns by making data-driven decisions.
“Employers need to gather the type of information that would guide any employment-related decision,” he says. “And that includes determining the number of workers who already have been vaccinated, understanding workforce sentiment, addressing and removing obstacles to vaccination, evaluating industry trends and accounting for public safety and health policies and infection rates in their particular geographies.”
Barry Hartstein, co-leader of Littler’s COVID-19 Vaccination Working Group and co-chair of the firm’s EEO & Diversity Practice Group, notes that the reality is that most workforces aren’t fully vaccinated—so, no matter where employers fall on the mandate question, they must determine how to implement separate safety protocols for these two distinct groups.
Doing so, however, will require employers to develop a reliable and practical way of distinguishing between those who are vaccinated and not—without stigmatizing those who are unable to obtain the vaccine for legally protected reasons.
“If there’s one lesson here, it’s that, especially given the recent resurgence in cases, risk assessments in a pandemic are anything but static and must be continually updated,” he says.