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Employers Can Mandate the COVID-19 Vaccine. But Should They?

There will be conflicts about receiving the vaccine at work, so organizations may want to tread lightly.
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As the vaccine roll-out stumbles along and expands to a broader range of people, employers are working to devise their vaccine policies. Because the federal government has declared a pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that private employers can require their employees to get the vaccine to ensure worker safety. But because of vaccine wariness, that might not be the best option for every organization. 

Companies should look at what is necessary, who needs to be vaccinated, and if workers who are worried about taking the vaccine can work at home or in an isolated area at the workplace, says insurance broker Holmes Murphy’s Chief Compliance Officer Ed Oleksiak. “You have to look at the type of business you are,” he says. “If it’s a business that requires everybody to be in the workplace and in close proximity with no options to work at home, then then the mandate may make more sense.”

Employers should consider their goals in vaccinating and decide whether the move is necessary, especially given the hesitation toward the vaccine. Though the public has become more friendly toward the vaccine, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that only about a third of the country would definitely receive it, while around 30 percent definitely won’t. A third more could be convinced with more information. Some of these doubts are based on historic racial inequities and injustices, so employers should consider those employees. 

Oleksiak says that educating employees about the value and effectiveness of the vaccine, the pressure the virus has put on healthcare system capacity, and its impacts might be the best way to navigate what may be a difficult situation. 

Some employers may want to consider hosting vaccine events once it is more widely available. Still, they need to consider their supply, refrigeration issues, or which third party to use for the distribution. Many employees may be vaccinated already, so the effort may or may not be worth it when an employer can organize it. 

As we learn more about how long the vaccine protects against the disease, employers may want to track who has received the vaccine and when, especially if those employees are required to be in person and in proximity to others. The most important issue is managing absenteeism that may be caused by the virus. If an employer is tracking the vaccine information, Oleksiak recommends that companies hire a third-party health official to ask questions and protect employees’ privacy. 

“There may be critical components of someone’s business where a group of critical workers has to be close together, and it’s fundamental to your business,” Oleksiak says. “When you get in those kinds of situations, then mandating for a group or everyone may be the best decision.”

In the future, the COVID-19 vaccine may end up being as common as the flu shot, which is often administered for free at the employer’s place of business—understanding the culture of the work environment, potential vaccine resistance, and conflicts that may be important for companies moving forward. They can also incentivize the vaccine by giving time off to recover after receiving it. 

In the end, one doesn’t want politics or personal feelings about the vaccine to alienate employees who may be difficult to replace. Making the distinction between what is necessary and what is desirable is important, Oleksiak says.”Sometimes there’s this move to say ‘Let’s all do this,’ without really stepping back and asking, ‘Why are we doing this? What’s our goal? What are we trying to accomplish? What’s going to be the impact culturally on my workplace?'”

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