Should employers mandate that workers get COVID-19 vaccines?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/zoranm
Aug 27, 2020
George Anderson

For months, many have posited that it will take a proven and widely available therapy and/or vaccine for life as we once knew it to return. To date, one unproven vaccine that did not go through rigorous phase 3 trials to prove its efficacy has been approved for use in Russia. Forty-two other vaccines are currently being developed or tested for COVID-19 around the world, with four in phase 3, according to Regulatory Focus, a publication of the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

While many remain hopeful that a properly tested vaccine will prove safe and effective before the end of the year, that is just one hurdle to making it widely available for the population. Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered guidelines for distributing a vaccine as part of a presentation at its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting.

The CDC, understanding that it will take time to produce enough vaccines to immunize the entire population to the point of creating herd immunity, is recommending that essential personnel and vulnerable Americans be the first to receive the vaccines. These would include paid and unpaid healthcare personnel, essential workers in agriculture, education, energy, food, law enforcement and other industries as well as individuals with underlying medical conditions and those 65 and older. The CDC estimates that it will take up to 253 million individual doses to immunize people in these groups.

If and when a vaccine is available, the question then becomes, will Americans feel safe in taking them? Thirty-five percent of those polled said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if available, according to a recent Gallup survey. Only 47 percent of individuals who identify as Republicans said they would get a FDA-approved vaccine if available, according to Gallup. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents plan to get immunized.

A USA Today op-ed written by three researchers from Case Western University this month argued that a COVID-19 vaccine should be free to all and that people should not be able to opt-out of receiving the immunization over religious or personal philosophical objections. Only those with medical contraindications should not receive the vaccine.

To compel compliance, the authors recommend a series of actions that both private and public organizations could take. This includes private companies refusing to hire and employ unvaccinated individuals. Businesses, they write, could also choose not to serve customers that have not been vaccinated.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree or disagree that private employers should be able to deny employment to any individual without a medical waiver who refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available? Should this rule apply to upper management as well as frontline workers in the food retailing and vendor industries?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I realize the issue triggers a debate about privacy vs. public health, but the risks of continued infection of a 'back to normal' workplace are just too high."
"If the name of the game is achieving herd immunity, you to have to inject ALL of the cattle."
"Did you mean to ask: Should employers assume lifelong responsibility and death benefits for a failed or harmful vaccine that they mandate?"

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21 Comments on "Should employers mandate that workers get COVID-19 vaccines?"


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Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

I believe it would be legal to refuse employment because the prospective employee refuses to take a vaccine. It appears to be along the same lines of refusing a drug test from a legal point of view. It is not discriminatory. Obviously businesses need to ensure it doesn’t snowball into a PR issue when it doesn’t need to be.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

As I re-read my initial comments and others, I realize the drug testing and vaccine administration are not equal. Mandated vaccines invade privacy, opens up liability issues and could be wildly risky in the first few months to a couple of years.

I foresee the continuation of the current approach to mitigation and a bit more – frequently testing for onsite employees, running at 50 percent capacity and flexibility to do as much remote work as the employee wants.

Xavier Lederer
BrainTrust

One way to look at this is from a legal risk perspective. Currently, companies can be sued if an employee gets COVID-19 at work — under these circumstances employers will want all their employees to get vaccinated. If Congress decides that people should be free to opt out of vaccination, it should also eliminate the risk for employers to get sued for a COVID contamination at work.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Among all the other collateral damage of COVID-19, from the death toll to the unemployment rolls, one of the most serious is the eroding trust in public health expertise, often along party lines. (And I’m old enough to remember just the opposite scenario, the mass vaccinations against polio in the ’50s and ’60s.) Any workforce, whether operating in a restaurant or an office, needs to be vaccinated and this needs to be the “price of entry.” Is this much different from colleges that require proof of vaccination before accepting students?

I realize the issue triggers a debate about privacy vs. public health, but the risks of continued infection of a “back to normal” workplace are just too high.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Requiring employees to wear a mask is one thing but this is such a slippery slope. I don’t know how I feel yet about getting a widely untested vaccine, so how can I require employees to get it? And then there is the question of legality. I’m not certain that non-medical employers will be able require employees to get the vaccine, regardless of the position they hold in the company.

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

Business law supports the right for organizations to make decisions that morally align to their belief system (see: Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Nike, REI…).

The key word in this instance is “private.” Private businesses have even more control over ethical stances. Private businesses should be able to require vaccinations – or not. If a standard is set, it should apply to all layers of the organization.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

The first question is, will we be sure that the vaccine is safe? If we are, then I have no problem requiring it for ALL employees, including and especially senior management. Truth be told, they should go first to set an example.

On some level, I don’t have the same kind of passion around others taking this vaccine as long as I can take it. I don’t monitor who takes the shingles vaccine and who doesn’t. It’s their pain, not mine. I feel very differently about certain childhood vaccines, some of which are imperative. I don’t believe children should be allowed to attend school without proof of polio, measles, and some other vaccines.

In full disclosure, I am not an anti-vaxxer, and find them frustrating and counter-productive. Conspiracy theories in general bore me at best. But since you asked, I gave you my answer.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Did you mean to ask:

Should employers assume lifelong responsibility and death benefits for a failed or harmful vaccine that they mandate?

Scott Norris
Guest

Should employers assume lifelong responsibility and death benefits for failing to reasonably ensure a safe work environment? If not, then who needs railings on staircases? Anyone can drive that forklift!

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Although employers generally don’t require normal influenza vaccinations, I do think it would be legal to require COVID-19 shots if only due to the impact of the pandemic and to stem anxiety in the workplace.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

The time line of how long it will take to provide the necessary number of vaccinations makes this problematic. So it’s going to take some combination of vaccines and testing to protect everyone and make workplace environments safe. It’s really unfortunate that politics seems to have clouded our ability to have a reasonable science based conversation about vaccines. It was a difficult conversation before COVID-19.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
I’m not sure that they can mandate people inject themselves with an unproven drug, or two, or three. This is a bit different than making sure employees are up on their tetanus shots, or have been tested for tuberculosis, etc. Those are often conditions of initial employment, not mandates to retain an existing job. So in a perfect alternative world, where public health had not been politicized and where the statements of medical authorities weren’t subject to review and censure from a non-scientist President who takes his treatment understanding from a guy that makes pillows and a doctor that believes in Satanic conspiracies, everyone would be vaccinated. But today, it’s hard to argue with the doubters given suggestions of injecting bleach and a CDC that seems to be on a perpetual bad acid trip. As to whether, assuming it is legal — and I am certainly not a lawyer so I have no clue — any vaccination rule should apply to executives as well as frontline workers the answer is a definitive “yes!” If the… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Absolutely the rule should apply to upper management as well as frontline employees. Before making the decision companies need to realize that requiring the vaccine would make the company liable for potential side effects. If a company does not think the vaccine has been tested enough to be willing to pay death benefits, short term or long term health benefits for side effects, they should not require all employees to get the vaccine.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Once a properly approved vaccine is available, I believe it is a reasonable expectation – from both customers and employees – that employers mandate that their employees are vaccinated. When I say properly approved, I mean a vaccine that is proven safe and effective exclusively by the scientific and medical community – not political rhetoric or agendas. There are no “alternate facts” here, just facts driven by proper scientific testing, experimenting, documentation, transparency, and unbiased results.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

Absolutely not, as our rights are being slowly taken away, and individuals should decide for themselves, just like getting a flu shot. Enough of this overbearing the people with more mandates that should never be part of a free society — while we still have one.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust
Let’s start with a few assumptions. The vaccine works;/ If it is required of an employee it is required that the management take it; If it is an actual law, then the politicians must take it. But here is where my big problem is — where do you stop with the requirement? I can see how it can be justified for healthcare workers — BUT. I can see where it could be justified for retailing and vendor industries — BUT. Where do we stop? I assume the justification for retail workers is that if they are vaccinated they don’t spread it to colleagues and customers. If that is the justification, then it would be appropriate to extend it to teachers and students. Or how about customers at restaurants? As for me, would I trust any vaccine that has been rushed to market over the objections of healthcare professionals? Would I trust any vaccine touted by Big Pharma that may have paid for expedited review to the FDA (yes, they do that)? The answer is a… Read more »
Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

Private companies can mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for employment provided the vaccine is largely tested. Forcing employees to get it otherwise is not correct and can backfire.

Suzanne Crettol
Guest

It takes seven+ years to get a medication to market in the U.S. in a “normal” environment and even then there are drugs that are pulled due to major side effects that can result in death. That is with major safeguards in place often referred to as “red tape.” There is a major rush across the globe to come up with a COVID-19 vaccine, so much so that many of the safeguards have been removed. Because of this, I strongly believe that employers should not force the vaccine on employees or potential employees as a condition of employment. Especially if they are able to waive liability.

storewanderer
Guest
25 days 22 hours ago

Absolutely not for THIS particular vaccine, at this time. This rushed, hastily and quickly tested COVID-19 vaccine that we will not fully know the effectiveness of or true side effects of for at least a couple years is absolutely not something that anyone should be “required” to take. Such a slippery slope.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Happily, we’ll have plenty of time to think about this (or maybe that’s UN-happily!)
ideally so many will do it voluntarily that the much sought “herd immunity” can be achieved and render the point moot … but I’d like to hear what expert advice has to say.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

This can become a big HR headache to say nothing about the PR problem it will create. Requiring a drug test took a long time to become accepted and the norm. In this case, regarding taking a COVID vaccine before knowing if it will actually be effective sounds like an unfair requirement. The time for this has not arrived.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I realize the issue triggers a debate about privacy vs. public health, but the risks of continued infection of a 'back to normal' workplace are just too high."
"If the name of the game is achieving herd immunity, you to have to inject ALL of the cattle."
"Did you mean to ask: Should employers assume lifelong responsibility and death benefits for a failed or harmful vaccine that they mandate?"

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