How will companies manage a staff of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/alvarez
Jun 15, 2021

As employers reopen offices, some are asking returning employees for proof they have received their COVID-19 vaccines.

Companies, as a Wall Street Journal article points out, have been urging employees to get vaccinated against the virus in order to prevent the spread of the disease within their businesses and beyond, often offering paid time off and other incentives.

Some private employers have gone so far as to require vaccinations for employees to return to their jobs. The Journal reports that some companies have begun asking workers to voluntarily register their vaccination status, while others are requiring employees to disclose that information. Many are requiring unvaccinated workers to wear masks inside of buildings even as the vaccinated conduct business without the same precautions.

Non-vaccinated workers may not like the feeling of being pushed to get shots, but recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance says employers have the legal right to require employees to be vaccinated against the virus. Exceptions to this rule include workers with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs. Those seeking to opt-out of being vaccinated may be able to get an exception to workplace rules by asking “to use masks, social distancing, schedule changes, or reassignment to stay safe at work,” according to the EEOC.

The issue of what to do with returning workers takes place at a time when some states are approaching or passing the 70 percent vaccination goal set by the Biden administration for adults, moving the U.S. towards a level that would create herd immunity. Many localities and states, however, have failed to even reach 50 percent largely due to the related politics, which follow previous splits over the seriousness of the virus itself and public health measures to prevent its spread.

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey held a briefing yesterday where he announced 260 new cases in the state despite a transmission rate below one percent. New Jersey is near the top of the list among states with vaccinated citizens.

The new cases, he said, come “almost entirely if not exclusively from unvaccinated individuals.” 

The reality, according to Gov. Murphy, is the state is in a pandemic again, but this time it is confined to the unvaccinated.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you advise retailers to manage vaccinated and unvaccinated workers in corporate offices, warehouses and stores? Do you see vaccination status among employees having an effect (positively or negatively) on a given store or company’s performance?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Feel free to refuse the vaccine, but don’t assume that I’ll hire you to work in my store."
"Safety and trust are incredibly important to customers and employees, and that includes physical safety."
"Hopefully companies can help non-vaccinated people who want to get vaccinated make that happen. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of hurdles at this point in time."

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25 Comments on "How will companies manage a staff of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers?"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

You want a job with us – get vaccinated. Barring an extreme exception it has been noted it is totally fine to require this as a condition of employment. Let’s stop tiptoeing around the issue – if they don’t want to get a vaccine and you allow them on the floor there’s plenty of other things they don’t agree with that they won’t do either.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I am very interested to see how this will play out in offices, without affecting the vaccinated and non-vaccinated groups.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Yesterday, a cashier in Georgia was killed over a mask dispute with a customer. It’s horrifying but that’s where we are. We obviously need to provide frontline workers with guidance that leaves room for improvisation when customers fight back. Because they do.

We’re talking about keeping people safe and avoiding a backslide to where we have already been. It seems simple to me that requiring workers to be vaccinated is the way to go, but this is America and it is the individual’s right not to comply.

I don’t know that I would be comfortable working side by side with non-vaccinated co-workers. And I am not sure I want to work (or shop) in a store where masks are not required. It’s a dilemma that is not easily solved, but I do believe requiring workers to be vaccinated is the way to go.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

As Dr. Phil says, when you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences. Feel free to refuse the vaccine, but don’t assume that I’ll hire you to work in my store.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Thinking in particular about corporate offices and warehouses, employees will be working at close quarter again barring a total re-engineering of their workspace. Companies managing these teams of workers are within their rights to require proof of vaccination to return to the workplace.

Workers who don’t comply are also free to make that health choice, but that doesn’t entitle them to a job with an employer with a vaccine mandate. Behavior has consequences, as if we didn’t all learn that painful lesson over the past 16 months.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Hopefully companies can help non-vaccinated people who want to get vaccinated make that happen. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of hurdles at this point in time. And people who don’t want to get vaccinated have made their choice. Can they work from home? That’s up to the company. Private health decisions are one thing, but COVID-19 very quickly becomes a public issue with public consequences. Common courtesy and mutual respect will go a long way in dealing with the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

They should introduce incentives like COVID-19 safety bonuses, additional 401K matching for the year, reduction in medical insurance premiums, higher life insurance coverage, etc., extended to the vaccinated folks.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

We seem to be all pretty consistent here — choosing the path to not vaccinate may mean no job.

I watched the news hit this morning that the workers in a hospital in Texas sued over a vaccine requirement which, by the way, carried a $500 incentive when first offered. 178 out of their larger pool of employees were dismissed due to their refusal – and 117 sued. The federal judge dismissed it, with a key comment published that also addresses this post: “There are going to be many battles fought. Not just in this courtroom, but in courtrooms all across the state. There are battles that are going to be fought in the higher courts, the 5th Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court, even the United States Supreme Court. So this is just one battle in a larger war. It’s the first round, if you will.”

It’s going to be interesting to watch it pan out…

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The issue has proven one of two things: logic no longer exists in America or something is wrong with the vaccines.

If an unvaccinated person is in proximity of a vaccinated person, so what? If the vaccines work, the vaccinated person is not at risk. If they don’t work, what is going on that everyone has been duped just so that pharmaceutical manufacturers can make billions?

If it’s a liability issue about the unvaccinated acquiring the virus from a vaccinated coworker, again, what’s wrong with the vaccines?

A simple liability disclaimer posted at store entrances or signed by employees stating that unvaccinated people enter at their own risk is all that is needed without intrusiveness and/or taking more rights away from Americans. And people unvaccinated by choice understand the risks, so it will not affect business. Turning them away will.

So if anyone here can demonstrate logical thinking behind these policies and vaccine passports, let’s hear it.

Rick Moss
Staff
I think you’re missing the point, Ken. First of all, the article is referring to office environments, not stores, so I’m going to keep my comments relevant to those situations. I don’t think there’s much risk that, say, an infected but asymptomatic, vaccinated worker would transmit COVID to a non-vaccinated worker. I doubt many employers worry about that. What employers want is a healthy workplace. If, say, 40% of workers returning to a reopened office are unvaccinated and fail to take proper precautions (masks, distancing, etc.), there’s a high likelihood they’ll spread the now virulent strains of the disease to one another and the employer will have a mini-office plague on their hands with a large portion of their workforce incapacitated. It would be much better to keep those unvaccinated workers functioning out of their home offices. It’s simply smart business practice. Also, I believe the drug manufacturers are claiming that the vaccines are 90% effective, not 100%. No vaccines are ever 100% effective. I don’t think 90% effectiveness constitutes “duping” the public. It’s doing… Read more »
Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Rick – I didn’t miss any point.

  1. I answered the query which referenced “corporate offices, warehouses and stores”
  2. So your position is to fire competent employees that are unvaccinated rather than have smarter policies?
  3. Many vaccinated people are now concerned as information is coming to the fore from very unequivocal sources [not fringe websites] that these vaccines may have long-term or permanent negative health consequences. And other reliable sources have reported that the 90% effectiveness you reference from manufacturers was manipulated by how their “studies” were conducted in order to get product approved under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). And that proves that Phil Rubin’s “data and science” is dependent on who interprets the “data and science.”

For all the above reasons, I see no valid argument to further erode citizens’ rights to accommodate corporate liability concerns when there are simple alternative solutions that can work for everyone, especially when the next phase, vaccine passports managed by large private tech companies with poor privacy records, was not mentioned here at all–but should have been.

Rick Moss
Staff

I’m not advocating for firing employees who a) must work among others and b) refuse to be vaccinated, Ken, but I think an employer should have the right to do so. I agree that in a lot of situations there are other more reasonable approaches, but I think every business is different and sometimes an unvaccinated worker is too high a risk. As for the risks associated with being vaccinated, they certainly pale in comparison to being infected, and working among others who aren’t vaccinated greatly increases your chances of the latter. I think people have the right to make poor decisions about their own health, but not bring them to the office with them.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Ken, what are those unequivocal and reliable sources you refer to? As to “citizens’ rights,” there are two sides to that coin. A citizen has the right not to be vaccinated (although we don’t extend that right to school-age children as a rule), but another citizen has the right to a safe workplace.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust
My final post on this: Dick – start here: Pierre Kory, M.D., M.P.A. the doctor that created the current US national protocol for in-hospital COVID treatment. If your real interest is educating yourself, you will find other reputable medical/scientific sources. A safe workplace is a wonderful idea. How is that fully defined? How many things should be mandated against a citizen’s right to privacy and choice for the right to a safe workplace? What about mandated mental health screening with a tracking app [passport] to validate that every worker’s screening is up-to-date to minimize the chances of bullying, harassment, sexism, and especially gun violence? All of those problems exist today and are dealt with–after the fact. It’s a unicorn employer that has pre-emptive mandates for “employee protection” as the concept of mandating vaccines and vaccine passports purports to be. As I’ve said repeatedly, this is not about anti-vax, this is about logical thinking and logical choices that maintain an individual’s rights over emotional, fear-based, illogical, poorly formulated policies that have no end and don’t necessarily… Read more »
Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Sorry, Ken, but Dr. Kory has been pushing unproven “treatments” such as ivermectin, alongside my senator (Ron Johnson) who has been one of the biggest sources of disinformation about COVID imaginable.

George Anderson
Staff

Rick is making the same point that NJ Gov. Phil Murphy just made. Public health officials have clearly stated that even the most well-vaccinated communities have not yet reached herd immunity (somewhere north of 80 percent if not 90 percent). Even people who have received the vaccine can still get the virus, they are just very unlikely to become seriously ill or die after doing so. Now is not the time to declare victory and return to business or life as usual. Employers do not allow workers to smoke in a store or office space because of the health ramifications it holds for others. Not being vaccinated could have consequences that are just as deadly, you just won’t have to wait as long to find out.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I don’t think 600,000 people dying in America caused anyone to be as you say “duped.” When vaccines have rolled out cases plummeted. This isn’t about individual rights it’s about collective responsibility and that comes down to the responsibility you have to an employer and to your other coworkers.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Bob – I did not state that anyone was duped. I asked a question about logic.

As far as collective responsibility, where is that every year for the flu? 350,000+ deaths since 2010 in the US alone. Do you want mandates for that too? What other personal mandates should be required for people to hold a job?

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

OK, I get where you’re coming from now. Geez.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 month 19 days ago

My advice is absolutely to require vaccinations for anything other than remote work. Safety and trust are incredibly important to customers and employees, and that includes physical safety. Schools and camps require immunizations to prevent the spread of PREVENTABLE diseases. Workplaces should be the same.

For those of us who are “knowledge” workers, what kind of knowledge ignores data and science? That same “knowledge” could presumably ignore other data pertinent to our business and clients, to our collective detriment.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Some people might say I have a strange way of looking at the world. For example, I think smart employers do not pay employees, but employees pay employers for the right to work for them, and the more money employees make for the employer, the more money they make.

With that thought process, I think employers should be requiring employees who work for them to be vaccinated. It is scientifically proven to be good for the employee and good for the community. If the employee does not want to be vaccinated the nice thing is that in this country he or she can go someplace else to work.

RandyDandy
Guest
1 month 19 days ago
As one who has often worked as a public-facing, customer service-oriented worker, I believe that, in the interest of assuring the public of the company’s safety (for both its workers AND customers), all of this level of worker must be vaccinated. Because yes, it’s a public health issue of the highest import. But there is one part of this process we are not talking about. That of still requiring even vaccinated workers to wear masks while working. There are a few reasons given why this is being required, and they make some sense. However there’s a downside not being considered: the possibility of this creating a sort of third class of individual. Of the masked worker shown as being “threatened” by visitors or as a “threat” to them. And for a vaccinated worker (aside from those who may work in close contact with foodstuffs), why place them in such a troubling middle ground? And one where, assuredly, visitors see them as masked and separate. Which is remarkably unfair, when one has done the same due… Read more »
Jlauderbach
Guest

I think the potential cost avoidance may be important. If or when the non-covid-vaccinated employee is hospitalized the company’s insurance rating will rise. It is similar to the smoking population of an organization. I have never heard of an employer requiring an MMR vaccination. There may even be litigation against a company if someone who was vaccinated contracts COVID at work (they fall into the 5-10% non effective group) for not protecting the general employee base.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’ll answer the easy question first — “Do you see vaccination status among employees having an effect (positively or negatively) on a given store or company’s performance?” A highly divisive issue that’s sure to divide people into warring camps, compel people to divulge personal information and cause them to view their fellow workers as either neurotic or reckless — and that’s actually the BEST CASE scenario — or at least it’s not the worst case (where people get sick).

Yeah, I can see that affecting performance.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

It is now legal for an employer to require its employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Federal courts, OSHA, and the EEOC now all embrace this position and will give employers the position they need to keep their clients, workers and their workplace all safe!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Feel free to refuse the vaccine, but don’t assume that I’ll hire you to work in my store."
"Safety and trust are incredibly important to customers and employees, and that includes physical safety."
"Hopefully companies can help non-vaccinated people who want to get vaccinated make that happen. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of hurdles at this point in time."

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