After staying quiet on vaccine mandates for months, companies began this summer to announce new requirements as vaccination rates stalled and the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus began to spread. The issue has been a delicate balance for employers, weaving in politics, health and privacy. But the government has put increasing pressure on employers to play a role in helping to vaccinate the country — and executives are desperate to get back to a degree of normalcy.
A combination of mandates at the government level, as well as full Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, have made it easier for executives to go ahead.
How extensive are company mandates?
Corporate vaccine mandates began to roll out substantially in late July, shortly after the Biden administration announced that it was requiring all civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing and other strict requirements. Walmart and Disney led the way, followed by others including Uber and Google. When the F.D.A. granted its approval on Aug. 23, more mandates came flooding in from Goldman Sachs, Chevron and others.
Still, many are not comprehensive. Companies like Walmart and Citigroup have mandates for their corporate employees, but not frontline workers. Many companies are dealing with labor shortages and varying levels of vaccine hesitancy across state lines.
More mandates are coming. In a recent Willis Towers Watson survey of nearly 1,000 companies, which together employ almost 10 million people, 52 percent of respondents said they planned to have vaccine mandates by the end of the year, compared with 21 percent that said they already had vaccine requirements.
How are companies carrying out mandates?
The approach to mandates runs the gamut. Some, like Tyson Foods, which is requiring vaccine for its entire U.S. work force, have said that vaccines are a condition for employment. United Airlines has said it will fire employees who do not abide by the airline’s vaccine mandate or get an exemption; those who are exempt will be placed on temporary leave, in many cases unpaid.
Others, though, have worked a degree of flexibility into their requirements. Many, like AstraZeneca, are offering those with religious or medical exemptions to undergo weekly testing as an alternative for vaccination. Some, including UBS, have said that employees who do not want the vaccine may work from home.
A recent poll conducted by Aon of 583 global companies found drastically different policies. Of employers that have vaccine mandates, 48 percent said they were allowing for religious exemptions; just 7 percent said they would terminate a worker for refusing to get vaccinated.
What are companies doing about unvaccinated employees?
Companies are offering incentives to persuade workers to get the vaccine. Some, such as Kroger, have offered bonuses, while others have provided vaccinations in the workplace and additional paid time off to increase inoculation rates.
But others are using deterrents, including loss of employment. Delta Air Lines, for example, is requiring unvaccinated employees to pay an extra $200 a month to stay on the airline’s health plan. Other companies are restricting office entry for those who are not vaccinated.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Workers who are unvaccinated because of a disability or conflicting religious beliefs have been told they must follow strict safety guidelines like regular coronavirus testing, masking and social distancing. Some are allowed to work remotely.
How does the law cover vaccine mandates?
Companies are legally permitted to make employees get vaccinated, according to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, though a number of states have proposed legislation limiting the ability to mandate for employees or guests.
Employers are allowed to ask about a worker’s vaccination status, which is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. The law, which protects a patient’s confidential health information, applies only to companies and professionals in the health care field.