As COVID-19 Vaccine Nears, Employers Consider Making It Mandatory
Or require. That is a dilemma Many employers are facing as a covert 19 vaccine comes closer to reality. Ah, quarter million people in the U. S have died from Cove it once there's a shot can that can prevent illness Should it be mandatory in the workplace? NPR's Andrea Hsu has more Only a couple of months into the pandemic. Holly Smith had made up her mind. Her restaurant Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, Washington, would not reopen the diners until there was a covert 19 vaccine. She's She's already already told told her her staff staff you you are are going going to to get get vaccinated. vaccinated. Some Some of of my my young young millennials millennials are are like like Saran Saran taking. taking. This This is is a a directive directive like like as as a a mandate. mandate. Is Is that that how how you you mean mean it? it? And And that's that's that's that's a scary thing. You know, like Yeah. Yes, yes, Smith had 28 employees before the pandemic. She's had to lay off all but five. Her fine dining spot has become a take out on Lee business. Even with a much smaller staff, Smith is serious about safety. She requires her workers to get tested. If they go on vacation with people outside their bubble, or if they're showing any sign of illness. I believe in civil liberties and all those different things, but you know, we have people who live with their parents. We have people who lived with her husband, who has diabetes. The staff have to be healthy and safe before you could move forward, she says, you know for vaccinated I think I can move out in the world and be responsible for these 28 or 30 people. Plus all the people coming in. Now, if you're wondering, Can she actually do this? Can she require her workers to get vaccinated? The answer appears to be yes, but her workers also have the right to request exemptions. Under federal law. Someone could say I have a medical or religious reason I can't be vaccinated and companies must try to provide accommodations. It's incredibly hard to manage a mandate. Johnnie Taylor Jr is president of the Society for Human Resource Management, He says Each request must be evaluated on its own merits. Now imagine if there were hundreds of them. A recent poll found four in 10. Americans don't want the vaccine, though that polling was done before anyone knew how well the vaccines would work. So this is a true headache for HR professionals. That's why you're likely to see many companies strongly encourage the vaccine, but stopped short of mandating it. Take, for example, the pork producers Smithfield, the company told NPR. They're not anticipating a firm mandate, but they want to offer the vaccine on site. Even with all the headaches, Taylor things many employers will go for the mandate. After all, they have an obligation to get rid of any known hazards in the workplace like Covad. It's real and it's devastating. So I think the dynamic changes. Employers are actually going to position this as I need to do this full stop. Now. There are some workplaces that already mandate the flu vaccine, most commonly hospitals. Dr. James McDevitt is dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He says the annual flu shot is required for some 14,000 people, doctors, nurses, med students, even the clerks. They're sitting in a computer that don't see live patients. It's the right thing to do for society, he says. If you claim an exemption, you have to wear a mask. Now with the covert vaccine. Baylor is not going to make it mandatory until they can actually get enough supply to cover everyone and until it's been deemed safe, not just by the FDA, McDivitt says, but by his own colleagues. Johnny Taylor Jr says. Whatever companies decide there are likely to be challenges. And so Congress and state legislators are going to have to think about how to offer some protection on both sides. Legal protection for companies that mandate the vaccine in case someone has a bad reaction. Even though you will have to sign a waiver before you get the shot. They've also gotta protect the employers who decide not to make it. Mandate and then who are sued by employees who contracted Taylor has been meeting with federal employment officials telling them employers want to do the right thing, but they're in a tough spot, and they're going to need help getting through this.