For CFOs, COVID-19 Employee Vaccinations Are Complicated

Andrew Deichler By Andrew Deichler March 24, 2021
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For CFOs, COVID-19 Employee Vaccinations Are Complicated

As recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management revealed, most companies do not plan to require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. While most organizations are encouraging their staff to get vaccinated, requiring them to do so is an incredibly complicated process. Finance leaders have witnessed this firsthand.

Domestic Outlook

As a leading commercial kitchen service organization, Smart Care Equipment Solutions was impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession. Full-service restaurants, hospitality and corporate dining bore the brunt of the pandemic, which took a toll on companies that repair equipment for those sectors. While Smart Care was still busy performing services for fast-food restaurants and hospital kitchens, the company was forced to lay off or furlough several hundred staff members in 2020.

As a company with over 450 client-facing technicians, Smart Care has been aggressive in making sure that its onsite technicians had ready access to N-95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). Employees who work in health care facilities have disposable jumpsuits they can throw away after leaving those locations. However, as much as Smart Care wants to protect its workers, CFO Jeff Johnson noted that mandatory vaccination is unlikely. "We continue to talk about it, but I doubt we can ever require employees get vaccines," he said.

Still, vaccination may prove necessary for the job to get done. For example, in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, a customer could refuse to allow a technician to work on its equipment unless that technician has been vaccinated. "They could say, 'If you want to work in this facility, you need to be vaccinated,' " Johnson said. "So, if you are not vaccinated and there is no other work to assign you, you may have to go home for the day."

However, Johnson also pointed out that it's still unknown how transmissible the disease is among vaccinated people. "No one knows yet whether having the vaccine reduces your ability to transmit the disease," he said. Requiring only vaccinated people onsite may not reduce the spread, after all.  "So I don't think we know yet what will be required or desired by our customers."

International Complications

For organizations that operate internationally, the outlook for vaccination is even more complex. The vaccine rollout has differed from country to country, and in some parts of the world—mostly in Africa—there are countries that haven't even begun any vaccinations.

The CFO of a multinational manufacturer of components for the automotive and aerospace industries explained that his company has operations on multiple continents. While office workers have been permitted to work from home, workers in the company's industrial facilities have been coming in to do their work throughout the pandemic.

It was essential to the company's bottom line that those facilities keep operating; taking a long hiatus simply wasn't possible for a manufacturer that has been severely impacted by the pandemic. "People stopped buying cars, and they stopped taking planes," said the CFO, who asked to remain anonymous. "As a result, all prices dropped and you don't have any capital for new projects. We were really impacted in Q2 and Q3. Then in Q4, we started seeing a recovery."

To keep employees safe, the company has required PPE, temperature checks and COVID-19 tests at all of its facilities. It has also staggered shifts to make sure that its factories aren't overcrowded. "We have shifts where maybe 30 to 50 percent will come in one week. And then another 30 to 50 percent will come in another week," the CFO said.

But when it comes to vaccination, the company is unlikely to require employees to get the shot. Instead, the manufacturer has been holding regular meetings with its entire staff, keeping them informed of the availability of vaccines in their areas and dispelling misinformation about vaccination. And to reinforce its support for vaccination, the company has been showcasing employees who make the choice to get it. "We send pictures to everyone through the internal e-mail system, just to reinforce the trust that we'd like our people to have in the vaccination process," the CFO said.

For nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that operate globally, handling COVID-19 vaccination is an even more complex labyrinth to navigate. ChildFund International, a charity that aids vulnerable children, has about 1,500 employees working around the globe. Many of these workers operate in countries where the vaccine is unavailable.

Sassan Parandeh, treasurer for ChildFund, noted that the availability question adds a major layer of complexity for an organization whose employees need to go out and directly work with people. "The U.S. is a fully developed country, and even we were struggling with the logistics of distribution," he said. "For a developing country, you not only have those questions, but you also have other difficulties around things like maintaining records for everyone. It's a lot more burdensome for small government."

Moreover, some of these nations still aren't clear on which vaccine they should get and from which country. With those questions come fears from citizens about colonization and whether vaccines from more powerful nations can be trusted.

And there's very little that ChildFund can do to help its global workers get vaccinated; air travel to and from many of these nations is still unavailable and even if it was, it's not feasible to transport 1,500 people to an area where they could get the shots. Nevertheless, the NGO is hopeful that its entire staff can and will get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"But when you're talking about people working in our programs, their job requires them to be out in the field and about," Parandeh said. "So, the vaccine is mission-critical. But the questions around the vaccine will be different overseas versus domestically."

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