Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Coronavirus Update 12-21-2021: Employers are starting to get real about vaccinated workforces

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the Covid-19 vaccine being administered in the United States. Yet, here are some headlines from last week:
While we wait for the Biden administration's vaccine mandates to work their way through the courts (this past weekend's 6th Circuit pronouncement notwithstanding), employers are taking matters into their own hands. Fueled by the exponential surge in Delta-related Covid cases, and the real and palpable threat of a more contagious Omicron variant looming and starting to wreak havoc, many employers have simply run out of patience with unvaccinated employees.

Google, for example, has given employees without a medical or religious exemption until 1/18/22 to provide proof of full vaccination or be placed on up to 7 months' unpaid leave, followed by termination thereafter. Grocery chain Kroger is taking a different tact to incentivize employee vaccinations — ending paid leave for Covid infections for the unvaccinated plus adding a $50-per-month insurance surcharge. 

All is not simpatico, however. A recent Axios-Ipsos poll reveals that as many as 54 percent of Americans believe that employers should not be mandating vaccinations as a condition of employment. Moreover, some hospitals, faced with rising patient counts and the threat of losing needed staff to mandates, have backed away from earlier plans to require vaccinations for workers. I am very curious to see if Omicron changes this thinking.

The bottom line is that employers are free to mandate the vaccine for their workers without legal impediment. Yet, there are legitimate business reasons why an employer may choose not to do so, including, but not limited to, staffing concerns in the midst of the most challenging hiring and retention environment we've ever seen. 

To me, and assuming you can get past the staffing issues, the question of whether to mandate or not comes down to where you fall on the issue of public health vs. personal privacy. I fall squarely on the left side of that equation — in the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century (which is only worsening; thank you Omicron), and with a safe and effective vaccine on the market, I believe that public health and our need to put this pandemic in our rearview mirror trumps all else, including personal privacy and personal medical choice. But, if you come down differently on that issue, that's your choice, as long as you understand that until (nearly) everyone is vaccinated we will continue to get new variants that will continue to test the limits of our immune systems, our health care systems, and our patience.