Will Covid Vaccination Soon Be A Requirement For Some New Hires? (Or Even Existing Employees?)
Perhaps some variation of the following will soon be part of a job description appearing on a jobs board or in the hands of a recruiter: “Success in this role is highly dependent on building and maintaining productive on-site relationships with clients and suppliers at many different workplace sites. Therefore, the successful candidate must have up-to-date evidence of covid-19 vaccinations or if unvaccinated must provide evidence of being vaccinated prior to an agreed-upon first day of employment. Many of our business partners demand this level of protection in our contractual relationships, therefore it is a condition of employment.”
Seem far-fetched? It’s not.
Many positions in both the private and public sectors have very specific job-related requirements:
- A security clearance for certain types of government and defense work;
- A passport for roles requiring international travel;
- An operator’s license for those workers who drive trucks, cabs, cars, ships or airplanes;
- Hepatitis A vaccination for employees who occasionally work in countries where the disease is prevalent;
- A law degree for many legal roles;
- Physical strength ability for some heavy manual labor jobs.
Being covid vaccinated may simply become one more requirement for prospective new hires assuming an employer can justify its job-relatedness as well as show that making potential accommodations, such as virtual interactions, would impose an undue hardship on the business. Think of it as another credential.
Bottom line: No shot, no job.
People who are either vaccine-hesitant for whatever reason or who are outright anti-vaxxers are likely to protest that they have a right to NOT get vaccinated. And they are correct. But at the same time, they do not have a right to secure a job which clearly states — and that can prove — that being vaccinated is an essential job requirement.
What makes things a little sticky is that all of the covid vaccines in use in the U.S. today have been approved by the FDA through the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) which is not the same as having FDA approval, which is a higher hurdle. The EUA is a streamlined approval process not as robust as the FDA’s regular approval process for new medications.
That distinction is likely to show up on the legal playing field if organizations mandate that existing -rather than prospective — employees need to get the vaccine. The FDA is currently (as of April 2021) suggesting that managers seek voluntary rather than mandatory vaccine compliance for employees within their organizations.
But unsurprisingly, perhaps, there are conflicting guidelines on the mandatory issue by different federal agencies. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency which enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, has updated its guidance very recently to employers suggesting that mandatory vaccination policies are acceptable in certain circumstances.
The EEOC guidance states that a vaccine is not a medical exam and therefore avoids the restrictions on employers asking about an individual’s possible impairments or health status. Requiring proof of vaccination also does not appear to violate any HIPAA regulations about health records privacy either. Again, job-relatedness will be a major consideration regarding the legality of requiring shots in the arm for existing employees.
It will be contentious…
A recent article in the Washington Post about the issue succinctly puts it this way: “It is a question of uncommon intricacy, involving public health, ethics, law, labor relations and ingrained American values.” Even in the healthcare industry, few hospitals have moved to a mandated approach, relying instead on vaccine advocacy and making it easy to get vaccinated on-site during working hours. Many eldercare institutions, however, do have a mandate for their employees because their patients are among the most vulnerable to the virus.
Beyond the probable legal and union challenges to vaccine mandates in the workplace, a more nuanced question being raised is this: Even if management can legally require employees (current or prospective) to get the shot, should management do that? “Can” and “should” are two different things…
Some employees — and managers — have strong negative feelings about the covid vaccine and for various reasons. Some worry that it was developed too quickly. For others, it violates their religious beliefs and some oppose vaccines of any sort. There are even people who believe the vaccine is part of some murky global conspiracy backed by evil forces to control all of us.
Here’s the tough issue: Some of those who are hesitant or outright opposed to getting the vaccine are likely to be good performers and might leave their employer if required to get the shot. That means forced-vaccination turnover could increase just as the economy is heating up and some experts are projecting labor shortages in certain industries.
Remarkably, about 30% of healthcare workers do not plan to get vaccinated according to the Washington Post article referenced earlier and within that group, nearly two-thirds said they would leave their job rather than get a shot. One can postulate that similar lines will be drawn in the sand by employees in other industries.
I know. Healthcare workers resistant to getting the shot? Really?
Organizational leaders, then, have yet another difficult risk management choice in these pandemic times. Is it better to force the vaccine issue to try to provide a safe workplace for all and risk some resulting turnover, or is it better to make it optional so as not to alienate or lose some good employees but run the risk of a workplace covid outbreak? The possibility of collateral damage is imbedded in either choice.
So much for the well-intentioned utilitarian (the greatest good for the greatest number of people) approach to managing in a pandemic crisis.
In addition, after a year of workplace gyrations caused by the pandemic, many employees are getting itchy feet anyway and are looking to make a move for reasons unrelated to the forced vaccination issue. A recently conducted workforce survey commissioned by Prudential ( Pulse of the American Worker Survey) found that 34% of surveyed millennials and 26% of Gen-Xers said they are planning to look for a new job with a different employer “once the pandemic is no longer an issue.”
Annual “voluntary turnover” averaged about 15% in the years preceding the pandemic and the survey’s finding of a higher number of folks who are seriously considering switching employers suggests there is pent-up demand for exploring greener pastures. All that potential churn is tinder for a new “war for talent” which will up the ante for managers and leaders at all levels to focus on workforce attraction, development and retention.
Like the current uncertainty about how and when to require employees to return to their physical workplaces and whether “hybrid” models will work, this is one more reminder that getting back to a “normal” post-pandemic world will have its share of challenges and choices.
About the author: Mike Hoban is a fully vaccinated business topics writer and leadership coach/ advisor. He is actively working at becoming a world-class grandpa to his five young granddaughters. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and wrote a business column for 12 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.