Table of Contents Hide
- 1. Evaluate the risk of workplace spread
- 2. Assess the likely impact of a vaccination mandate on talent
- 3. Calculate the economic impact of a mandate
- 4. Develop straightforward policies and procedures
- 5. Implement a comprehensive communication plan
- 6. Proactively address liability concerns
- 7. Measure the effectiveness of the mandate
By Jeff Levin-Scherz & Mike Orszag
Many employers in the United States have been encouraging their employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to make their workplace safer and protect their communities. But the spread of the Delta variant and declining rates of new vaccinations brings new urgency to the effort to increase vaccination rates.
Earlier this year, employers focused on efforts to make it easy for their employees to get vaccinated. They offered flexible schedules, paid time off and modest financial incentives. Despite these initiatives, over a third of US adults remain unvaccinated. Consequently, some organizations have started mandating that their workers be vaccinated, and many others are trying to decide whether to follow suit. Those still deliberating should realize that their decision could have a significant impact on their short-term productivity and profits as well as their long-term ability to attract and retain needed talent. With that in mind, we recommend they take the following actions:
1. Evaluate the risk of workplace spread
Outbreaks of Covid-19 were initially more likely to be associated with social venues such as restaurants, fitness centers, cafes and religious organizations than work places. But some other kinds of workplaces had deadly outbreaks, including health-care facilities, food processing plants, prisons and nursing homes. That said, all employers are responsible for providing a safe working environment for employees and must protect the lives and health of those they serve. Employees are most likely to accept vaccination mandates when there is strong evidence that they will protect the most vulnerable or have other clear business or public health benefits.
Even for those companies with a lower risk of on-site transmission, mandates can increase employees’ and customers’ perceptions of safety. Employers may implement vaccination mandates for high-risk employees, such as for those who travel frequently for business, to avoid quarantines or illness away from home.
Conversely, the case for mandating vaccination is much less compelling for employers that have only remote workers who do not have in-person contact with customers. The same is true for employers with work forces whose vaccination rate is already high.
2. Assess the likely impact of a vaccination mandate on talent
Some companies have expressed concern that employees who object to a mandate will take advantage of the tight labor market and move to their competitors. At the risk of stating the obvious, employers should consider the specific conditions in their particular industry. In some industries such as nursing homes, mandates are likely to be widespread. Therefore, the policy is unlikely to cause workers to jump ship. And some people worried about being exposed to Covid-19 might be more willing to return to work or take a new job if they are assured that vaccination rates for the site’s workforce are very high due to a mandate. Indeed, a recent poll showed that a majority of employees favor vaccination mandates to improve work place safety.
3. Calculate the economic impact of a mandate
Companies with higher rates of employee vaccination will have fewer cases of severe Covid-19 and incur lower medical costs. Employers implementing a vaccination mandate, however, will have to pay the administrative costs of tracking vaccination status, including safeguarding the privacy of employees’ personal health information.
4. Develop straightforward policies and procedures
Employers that mandate Covid-19 vaccination should have clear and simple implementation policies addressing who is subject to the mandate, which vaccines are acceptable, what proof of vaccination is required, whether to require booster shots when different cohorts become eligible for them, criteria for granting exemptions and standards for those granted vaccination exemptions.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission requires US employers to offer exemptions to vaccination mandates for religious or medical reasons. But it allows employers to reassign or terminate employees if their unvaccinated status would make the workplace unsafe and any accommodation would lead to “undue hardship” for the business. Employers that mandate vaccination can require those who are not vaccinated to have frequent tests to decrease the chance of Covid-19 entering the workplace. Companies with compulsory testing programs should bear the costs of testing and should budget accordingly.
5. Implement a comprehensive communication plan
Since it takes five to six weeks from the first injection for people who receive an mRNA vaccine requiring two injections to be considered fully vaccinated, employers must fully communicate plans to issue a vaccination mandate months before the implementation date. The best communications will include a clear statement about why the mandate is being put in place and its benefits for employees, family, the community and the company. To reach as many employees as possible, organizations should communicate the plan via multiple channels.
6. Proactively address liability concerns
Some companies might be concerned that a vaccination mandate could lead to lawsuits seeking damages if an employee has a rare but severe complication from the vaccination. They can be reassured that those harmed by any of the authorized Covid-19 vaccinations in the United States would be eligible for compensation through workers’ compensation or one of two government programs: the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program or the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Employers considering offering on-site vaccination delivered by their own staff should check with their legal counsel to be sure that they would not incur additional liability.
7. Measure the effectiveness of the mandate
Employers that decide to require employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 can ensure that their program is beneficial to both public health and their business interests by evaluating the effectiveness of the mandate in real time. They can measure the changes in the rates of vaccinations, exemptions, employee turnover and the administrative resources expended. They can also analyze the impact on employee morale and satisfaction. A timely evaluation system can help employers change policies, procedures and communications in ways that improve vaccination rates and employee satisfaction.
Since a high level of vaccinated employees decreases the risk of work place exposure to Covid-19, many companies are understandably seeking to push their unvaccinated workers to get vaccinated. While it may be impossible to get the entire workforce to get vaccinated, thoughtfully implemented mandates are likely to lead to higher levels of vaccination than other employer approaches. But mandates are not right for all employers. In deciding whether to implement one, companies should carefully consider whether this is the best approach to protect employees, customers and their communities.
Jeff Levin-Scherz is a population health leader of the North American Health and Benefits Practice of Willis Towers Watson, where Mike Orszag is an economist and the managing director of research.