Coronavirus restrictions may be lessened, but dealing with COVID-19 continues to challenge area employers. At the top of the list is the difficult question whether to require that employees be vaccinated against the virus. There is little doubt that doing so is wise for most businesses, which are well-advised to implement mandatory vaccine policies as soon as they can.
COVID-19 emotional issues aside, practical business considerations make mandatory vaccine polices a virtual no-brainer. From a broad perspective, there is, of course, the growing threat of a COVID-19 resurgence, borne as it is on the backs of the unvaccinated. As case numbers continue to grow, so too does the threat to businesses of all shapes and sizes. Few of them can afford another lockdown like the one that devastated the bottom line in 2020 and 21, and vaccine mandates will help to minimize that possibility. In addition to this, there is a threat much closer to home: a COVID-19 outbreak inside a local office, restaurant or the like. It may take but one unvaccinated employee to carry the virus into a company and leave it there to fester, interrupting business operations or even shutting them down entirely.
Beyond all this, employers have yet another compelling reason to require employee vaccinations: the psyches of their vaccinated employees and customers, who are increasingly demanding that they not be exposed to the unvaccinated. Indeed, the trend in this direction is clear as companies such as CNN fire employees who refuse the vaccine and government agencies and schools move toward vaccine mandates. In Massachusetts, which is among the most vaccinated state in the U.S., the public appears to be tiring of those who refuse the vaccine. More and more people want vaccine mandates. Because employees and customers are among them, employers must be able to answer the question, “are your workers vaccinated?” with a firm “yes.”
To be sure, policy implementation requires some thought. As they mandate vaccines, employers should provide time for employees to get them. There must be a route for those with disabilities or religious objections to apply for an opt-out and, perhaps, consideration of accommodations for others where possible. Penalties for refusers need also to be carefully thought out. In some cases, jobs may be sacrificed, and this raises the specter of losing good employees. In others, mask and social distancing rules, among others, might be individually applied to the unvaccinated. Much of this depends on the nature of an individual business. What’s important is that employers consider their options, implement appropriate workplace vaccine policies, and then stick to their guns in the face of any pushback. By all indications so far, that will be unusual in Massachusetts, at least.