With Covid-19 vaccinations becoming more available, many companies are facing a critical question: Should they mandate vaccines for their employees?
Dr. Fauci has said that until 75% of the nation is vaccinated or recovered, we should continue to wear masks and social distance. Yet around 40% of people are still reluctant to take the new vaccine. It’s not just the typical anti-vaxxer lunacy. Large groups of people worry that the approval process was rushed and others are simply concerned about trying something new.
Given that dichotomy, it seems as though we’re still a long way from getting back to normal. Worse, it will continue to spread the disease and delay economic recovery.
So should companies mandate vaccines for their employees?
I’m not sure.
To be clear, I fully intend to take the vaccine at the first chance I have. And I 100% support mask mandates. But this seems like it would cross a line.
We do know that companies can do this. Legally speaking, they have this authority. I won’t get into the legalese, because I’m guessing you don’t really care. In short, as long as companies allow exemptions for those not able to receive a vaccine, whether due to disability or religious beliefs, they’ll be fully in compliance with workplace laws.
This argument’s played out across multiple court rulings. Most notably in 1905, the Supreme Court ruled against a Massachusetts pastor who sued the state for requiring residents to take the smallpox vaccine. “Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others,” the court ruled. “It is, then, liberty regulated by law.”
So companies can do it. But should they?
There’s definitely an argument to be made. By mandating vaccinations, companies can create a safer environment for their employees. People would not only be able to return to work more quickly, they wouldn’t have to worry about transmitting the virus from others in the office, perhaps bringing it home and jeopardizing someone who hasn’t been able to get the vaccination.
It could also help revive the economy with customers. If you know that all of Uber’s employees received a vaccination, people may be more comfortable returning to the service. The same argument could apply to restaurants, stores, or any customer-facing business.
There’s also a potential liability for not mandating the vaccine. Employees could claim that their company failed to provide a safe and healthy work environment, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It may seem a stretch, but given the quantity of lawyers in the world, doesn’t seem too outlandish.
One survey showed that approximately 64% of working Americans are likely to get a vaccine once it’s available. That number jumps to over 75% if their employer mandates it. This decision could mean the difference between herd immunity and continuing health restrictions and stimulus plans.
So yes, there’s an argument to be made. And it seems reasonable that for companies taking millions of dollars of taxpayer aid to support their business during the pandemic, they should do everything they can to bring about it’s end as quickly as possible.
There’s a strong argument. But I don’t know. It still just seems wrong.
The question, I suppose, comes down to how you see people.
How Do You See Your Employees?
Do you believe that your people are generally good?
The recent wave of public idiocy makes this question somewhat tougher, but often our leadership decisions come down to that main question: Do you believe that they’re good?
Do you believe that, given the opportunity and the right knowledge, they’ll choose to do the right thing?
You either believe that your people are fundamentally good or you don’t. If you believe that they’re good, then it’s important to act in a way that’s consistent with that belief. It’s important to trust people and give them the freedom to do the right thing. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Mandating vaccines becomes a violation of this trust. It tells people that you don’t believe they’ll make the right decision. You now need to make it for them.
Sometimes this is a necessary step. In emergencies, no one looks for a consensus before evacuating a burning building. But wherever possible, the goal is to play the long game. Which means defaulting to trust and giving people the opportunity to do the right thing.
So What Should We Do?
While companies may be hesitant towards mandating vaccines, there’s a large continuum of actions between that and doing nothing. They can contribute by encouraging their employees to vaccinate and helping address some of their concerns.
It’s great to trust your people to do the right thing, but part of that is helping them to obtain the right information, setting a good example, and making the right decision the easy decision. Companies that are willing to contribute towards the health crisis not only can address a serious health concern, but they can reinforce that established culture of trust.
It’s great to trust people. But it doesn’t hurt to give them a nudge as well.
1. Make an effort to understand.
It would be a mistake to write off every hesitant employee as some anti-vaxxer crazy. People have real concerns based on their experiences and beliefs. How can you possibly find out these concerns? Simple. Ask people. They’ll tell you.
There’s no better time engage with them and understand their position on vaccines and the reasons behind their reluctance. Understanding their specific concerns will help focus communication and education efforts. It also helps establish the initial baseline to help measure effectiveness of your follow-on efforts. Trust me on that one, if there’s one thing management knows, its how to measure stuff.
2. Educate with precision.
People are anxious because they have specific questions and concerns. They don’t need more information. They need the right information. So while transparency is still critical — few things kill trust faster than dishonesty — a more helpful counter to this anxiety is informational clarity.
Once you understand people’s concerns, act with precision. No one needs hundreds of pages of medical studies. Give people the answers they need. Good people make good decisions when they have good information.
3. Set the right example.
People may not always believe what leaders say. But they always believe what they do. A leader’s biggest contribution is often just setting the right example.
Publicly support vaccinations. Get them yourself. Work with public health officials to communicate the right message. Whatever you need to do.
4. Make it easy.
The critical aspect leaders can take is to make vaccination an easy option for employees. No one should have to choose between getting paid and getting vaccinated. Recognize the barriers that employees, especially those with children and family care responsibilities, will need to manage in getting a vaccine.
Protect wages or offer paid time off for vaccination. Better yet, set up an on-campus vaccination site. Find the barriers that could prevent people from vaccination and remove them. There’s no better way to help people make the right choice than by making it the easy choice.
As of today, over 410,000 people, in the US alone, died from our worst public health crisis in a century. It’s exposed inequities in our health system and the woeful inadequacy of our country’s crisis response. Granted, our companies didn’t create this problem. But we do need them to step up and be an active part of the solution.
Whether you choose to mandate vaccines or not, there are plenty of small investments we can make today that will pay significant dividends in protecting people, reviving the economy, and building that trust that will help us continue to overcome these challenges going forward.