When Indiana University (IU) Health announced that its 35,000 employees would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, not all of them complied. Following a two-week unpaid suspension period that ended Sept. 14, a total of 125 part-time employees—the equivalent of 61 full-time employees—chose not to get the vaccine and left the organization.
"We did not want anyone to leave IU Health because of the requirement, but we must put the safety and well-being of our patients and team members first," said Lisa Tellus, manager of public relations at IU. "Vaccinating team members is a safe and effective way to protect patients and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our health care facilities and in the community."
IU Health is not alone in dealing with employees who are quitting over vaccine mandates, especially in the health care system. Over at Henry Ford Health System (HFHS), which was the first health system in Michigan to have a vaccine mandate, about 400 team members, or 1 percent of the workforce, voluntarily left their jobs rather than get the vaccine. More than 50 HFHS employees sued their employer, saying a mandate is unconstitutional. An additional 1,900 team members, or 6 percent of the workforce, received an approved medical or religious exemption.
According to Bob Riney, HFHS' president of health care operations and chief operating officer, new hires are replacing the team members who resigned and recruiters are actively seeking candidates through job fairs. If those who resigned change their minds and want to get vaccinated, they can reapply for a job at HFHS.
"We want to lead, and we know that vaccinations are the way for us to get out of this pandemic," Riney said, calling the 99 percent vaccination compliance among employees a "huge moment of pride for us."
In some cases, employees who decide not to resign are fired for refusing to be vaccinated. Washington State head football coach Nick Rolovich, as well as four of his assistant coaches, were terminated on Oct. 18 for failing to comply with a state vaccination mandate. "Due to the requirements set forth in Washington Governor Jay Inslee's Proclamation 21-14.1, Nick Rolovich is no longer able to fulfill the duties as the football head coach at Washington State University," according to a news release issued by the university's athletics department.
Kaiser Permanente, which has 12.5 million members and patients, mandated vaccines for all 216,000 employees and 23,000 physicians by Sept. 30. When this was announced on Aug. 2, the vaccination rate among employees and physicians was 78 percent; now, nearly 98 percent of active employees have been vaccinated. The remaining 2 percent were placed on unpaid administrative leave as of Oct. 1, and they have until Dec. 1 to get a vaccine and return to work.
The Aug. 2 statement said, "We hope none of our employees will choose to leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated, but we won't know with certainty until then. We will continue to work with this group of employees to allay concerns and educate them about the vaccines, their benefits and risks."
Many employers are figuring out what to do when their workers decide to leave due to vaccine requirements. In September, President Joe Biden announced that employers with at least 100 employees would be required to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing, and those employers say compliance will be challenging. The rule to implement Biden's order is now under review.
Smaller employers don't have to implement a vaccination mandate, but many already have.
Yungi Chu, the owner of HeadsetPlus.com in the San Francisco Bay area, mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all of his employees once the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Employees could get out of the requirement only if they had a medical excuse or religious exemption.
"It's the only way to keep every employee safe in the office and warehouse," Chu said. "I just don't see how a business can operate fully in person and prevent a COVID-19 delta outbreak or even death without all the employees fully vaccinated."
So far, Chu has lost two employees out of 35 because, he said, "they don't feel they should be forced to be vaccinated. [That was] their response to me when they left their job. I said I didn't have a choice. We have employees [who are] 60 years old. I cannot gamble with their [lives]."
At Kenna Real Estate in Denver, Colo., around 35 percent of employees refused to get vaccinated after owner Brian Burke put a mandate in place. In order to encourage vaccinations, Burke asked vaccinated employees to describe to unvaccinated workers the safety issues and risks of being unvaccinated and how it would affect them and their families. Burke also offered unpaid leave to the employees who refused to get vaccinated "to provide them with time to think about their decision and for my company to take measures to bring them back within that time," he said.
Still, around 20 percent—42 employees—quit their jobs in the end. "Ultimately, [it] didn't affect us to the core or push us to close down everything, but [it did] hinder the productivity and efficiency of the whole company," Burke said.
Ron Wysocarski, owner and CEO of Wyse Home Team Realty in Port Orange, Fla., faced similar problems. He said that around 10 percent of his employees showed their dissatisfaction toward his company's vaccine mandate when it was implemented.
"I had a conversation with every single employee who had issues with the vaccine mandates and tried my best to come up with solutions that could make both sides happy," he said. "Some of them had religious and other complicated issues, so I had to respect their choice. However, I approved remote offices to a number of such employees, considering their type of work and need for physical presence. For others, I offered to give them their jobs back as early as they take their vaccines."
After everything, only two employees quit, and Wysocarski said there weren't any major disruptions at his business. "It was not [very] difficult to fill up those positions. I faced some problems for around 15 days though, after which I could successfully fill both of the positions with eligible employees."
Marilyn Gaskell, founder and hiring manager at TruePeopleSearch, a tech company in Arizona with 20 employees, said two of her employees quit because of her company's vaccine mandate.
"They felt as though it violated their freedom of choice. Unfortunately, while we were sad to see them go, we did not agree on the notion that we were violating their freedom of choice but [instead were] simply making them less of a danger to their co-workers," said Gaskell, who met with the two employees before they quit and offered them the chance to work remotely. However, since they wanted to be in the office without taking the vaccine, she said she had to let them go.
"Frankly, I can't be held responsible for endangering the lives of the employees who come into the office to work every day, and that is precisely what would have happened if we allowed unvaccinated people to return to the office," she said. "I have a responsibility to my employees to ensure their safety while they are at work and, for me, that entails vaccination."
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.