With COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases again surging, the private sector is beginning to play an outsized role in a flagging vaccination campaign. That’s especially true in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has limited mask requirements and prevented local governments, school districts, and any institution taking state money from imposing a vaccine mandate.
Your boss, however, has more leeway. Employers’ vaccine mandates are legal and, evidence shows, effective. Not long after the Houston Methodist Hospital System gave its 26,000 employees a choice — get vaccinated or get fired — it reported a staff vaccination rate of nearly 100 percent. (Exemptions were granted for medical or religious reasons.) Baylor Scott & White and Texas Health Resources followed suit with employee vaccine mandates last week. Parkland can’t, because of Abbott’s rule.
Outside of healthcare, there’s nothing resembling a consensus, although employers around the country report ramping up their efforts to get workers vaccinated. In April, more than 90 percent of the businesses polled by the Dallas Regional Chamber said they weren’t requiring their employees to be vaccinated. But that was before the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, coupled with sluggish vaccination rates, sent hospitalization numbers shooting back up. And it was before major national employers like Walmart and Disney (along with a host of tech companies) began embracing vaccine mandates. Walmart, the biggest private employer in the U.S., is requiring managers and employees at its headquarters — but not at its individual stores and distribution centers — to get vaccinated. Salaried and non-union Disney employees will also have to be vaccinated.
The Dallas Regional Chamber is again polling its members for a pulse check, with the results due later this month. I emailed the in-house PR shops for some of the bigger employers in the area to see what they’re doing. A smattering of the responses:
- American Airlines: “American is strongly encouraging our team members to get vaccinated and we are offering an incentive for those who do — an additional vacation day in 2022 and a $50 gift card. We don’t plan to require team members to be vaccinated unless it’s mandatory for entry into certain destinations.”
- Southwest: “Southwest highly encourages Employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but does not require it.”
- Toyota: “Toyota is not requiring team members to be vaccinated at this time, and we are offering the vaccine to our employees and contractors at many of our sites through our clinics or pharmacies. We continue to evaluate recommendations and guidelines from several sources, including the CDC and OSHA, as well as state and local government protocols at our locations across the U.S., as this evolves.”
- State Farm: “At this time, State Farm is not requiring employees to receive the vaccine. State Farm encourages all employees, who are able, to consider the potential health benefits of getting vaccinated.”
No response from Texas Instruments and AT&T, among a few others.
Businesses face some tough decisions here. But we’ve reached a “tipping point,” and employer vaccine mandates may be a necessary tool in the fight against COVID-19.