My Take: Vaccine mandates. Should you or shouldn’t you?

April 27th, 2021

A couple of weeks back, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with the latest guidance about people who get the vaccine.

The CDC now tells us that people who are fully vaccinated, meaning those who have had both shots (or one shot if they’ve taken the Johnson & Johnson variety) and have waited a couple of weeks for immunities to build up, can gather indoors with other vaccinated people and even with the unvaxxed from a single household who are at low risk for COVID. The vaxxed don’t need to quarantine if exposed to the virus and don’t need to test for it, either, unless they develop symptoms. Freedom is on the horizon!

The question now becomes, what does it mean for the workplace? As more and more people become vaccinated and the prospect of a post-pandemic normal is in plain view, more and more employers are wrestling with their stance on vaccine mandates. Should you or shouldn’t you require employees to get the shot?

The way I see it, there are strong cases on both sides. Here are some points to consider:

  • Vaccine mandates have long been the norm for children in schools. Why should the workplace be different?
  • Airlines, trains, and even restaurants and entertainment venues are considering a version of vaccine mandates, requiring proof of the vax or a recent negative COVID test before customers will be allowed to enter.
  • If everyone is vaccinated, people can safely congregate in the office again.
  • But, on the other hand, who really wants to? Much of the recent research I’ve seen indicates that employers are downsizing their office space, employees love the work/life balance that comes from working at home, and companies — even in very traditional industries like banking — have realized that working at home works just fine. Don’t get me started on the implications of this not just for the workplace but for cities, schools, and society as a whole. That’s fodder for another blog.
  • Some employees may have serious objections to being vaccinated.
  • Are employers really prepared to wade into the dark and murky waters of telling employees what to do with their bodies and health apart from benign things like sponsoring a flu shot clinic every year or holding a contest for the most steps taken in a month?
  • What if an employee has a mandated vaccine and develops a rare side effect or reaction to it? Are employers liable?

The vaccine mandate is one of the trickier issues HR is grappling with during a year of tough and tricky issues. For many companies, the answer has been to encourage vaccination through a modest financial incentive, while providing an alternative incentive opportunity for those with religious objections or conditions that do not permit vaccinations.

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