Survey: Vaccine-or-Testing Mandate Will Be Difficult to Implement

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. October 15, 2021
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​Nine out of 10 recently surveyed organizations said it will be somewhat or very challenging to implement the Biden administration's expected vaccine-or-testing requirements. These respondents so far have not mandated that their employees get the COVID-19 vaccine, but they do meet the criteria for needing to institute the requirements.

President Joe Biden announced plans on Sept. 9 for a new rule requiring employers with at least 100 employees to mandate that their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. The president also signed orders stipulating that most federal employees and federal contractors, as well as most health care workers across the country, be vaccinated.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted the survey electronically to a random sample of active SHRM members from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30. The 1,289 respondents represented organizations of all sizes—from two to more than 25,000 employees—in a wide variety of industries across the U.S. SHRM also conducted a separate survey of 1,500 U.S. workers.

"Organizations are concerned about the challenges to implementing the new vaccine mandate during a time when there is a talent shortage in many industries," said Trent Burner, SHRM's vice president of research. "The majority of organizations say mandating the vaccine will impact their organization's recruitment, retention, morale and engagement, and business operations."

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Organizations' Concerns

Of organizations that meet the criteria for the Biden administration's vaccine-or-testing requirement, 85 percent said the anticipated requirement will make retaining employees more difficult. Eighty-nine percent said some of their employees will quit due to the new mandate.

Seventy-eight percent of HR respondents said the vaccine-or-testing requirements will make attracting and hiring new employees more difficult, while 82 percent said the requirements will make maintaining morale and engagement more difficult.

Seventy-two percent said the vaccine-or-testing requirements will make maintaining regular business operations more difficult.

"The mere possibility of federal vaccine mandates has raised alarm among HR professionals about the possibility of employee turnover," said Mark Codd, SHRM-SCP, labor relations group director for Publix Super Markets Inc., headquartered in Lakeland, Fla.

"Many organizations have undertaken extensive and creative campaigns to increase the voluntary vaccination rate before any federal mandate is issued," he said. "Now is the time for HR professionals to leverage their knowledge of the workforce and creatively develop a persuasive campaign to increase vaccination—both for compliance as well as the health of their workforce."

The federal government's expected vaccine-or-testing mandate for medium and large employers should prompt an internal assessment of the workforce, Codd added. "It's important to know the percent currently vaccinated, as well as understanding the numerous reasons for vaccine hesitation. That information forms the basis for the company's likely numerous campaigns to address and eliminate each vaccine hesitancy."

There are many reasons why workers are hesitant to get vaccinated. "Whether it's cultural, gender reasons, compromised health, distrust, fear or any one or more of other reasons, HR professionals must be capable of addressing each," he said.

Employee Pushback

Many employers gearing up for the vaccine-or-testing mandate are experiencing employee pushback.

While there has been some acquiescence among unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated, many of the employees who wanted the vaccine have had it for months, said Joyce Chastain, SHRM-SCP, a regulatory compliance consultant with The Krizner Group in Tallahassee, Fla. Many of "the ones who don't have it made a conscious decision to not get the vaccination," she said. "It wasn't about apathy. It was a choice."

Chastain said those same employees now have to decide among:

  • Keeping their job.
  • Lying about a sincerely held religious belief.
  • Getting an inoculation that they think is suspect.

"Some of these unvaccinated employees are key to the organization's mission or success," she said. "That puts the organization in the position of losing critical staff."

If an employee is refusing a vaccination and not seeking an accommodation, federal contractors are creating a transition plan now rather than waiting until Dec. 8, the deadline for federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Chastain added.

"They are hoping to mitigate against having so many exits on the same day," she said. "They are also hoping that by implementing the transition plan now, employees [will] take them seriously."

Workers' Thoughts on the Biden Announcement

In a separate SHRM survey of 1,500 U.S. workers conducted from Sept. 28 to Sept. 29, over half of respondents who are not fully vaccinated (52 percent) said they will likely quit their jobs if their employer requires them to get the vaccine as a condition of employment.

While 60 percent of surveyed employees supported the vaccine-or-testing announcement, 40 percent did not.

Workers in manufacturing (49 percent) and in wholesale trade, retail trade or transportation, and warehousing (48 percent) were the most likely to not support the Biden announcement, followed by workers in administrative and support services (44 percent) and in construction, utilities, agriculture and mining (43 percent).

Workers in the professional, scientific and technical services (75 percent) were the most likely to support the Biden announcement, followed by workers in information, finance and insurance, and real estate (67 percent) and in health care and social assistance (64 percent).

Marie LaMarche, SHRM-SCP, division director of labor relations for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Tacoma, Wash., said employers can address the challenges they face in implementing the vaccine-or-testing requirement by "truly preparing for how employees will disclose their vaccination status. Even that can be difficult to administer and track, particularly since many people have waited and may have gotten their first dose and not their second."

She added, "Although I am a proponent of vaccination, the heartfelt concern I have heard from some employees makes me understand that it can be a scary proposition to some. A lot of employees are worried or scared about losing their jobs along with being concerned about the effects of the vaccination."

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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