Can I Require My Employees To Get Vaccinated


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Most of my clients, and even my company, Idomeneo – are facing questions about how, when and under what circumstances can our teams return to the office – even if in some sort of hybrid model.  Actually, the big question on most leader’s minds is – can I require my employees to get vaccinated.  And what do I do if they don’t or won’t.

Of course, dealing with the pandemic in the workplace brings up a host of thorny questions – in fact, you may have noticed that this podcast has largely steered clear of the subject.  That’s because the situation is so fluid – and the guidance has been ever changing to match.  And to top it off, different rules apply depending on which state, county and in some instances, city you live in.

So, all that to say – it’s almost impossible to put a hard and fast stake in the ground.

But, the question of vaccinations is persistent – and the issue doesn’t look like its going to go away anytime soon.  So here goes.

Alright, the first question is – can I require my employees to return to the office.  The short answer is – yes.  The longer answer is – yes, but if they really don’t like it, there are ways they can make their displeasure known.

Of course, they could complain.  Or, at the other end of the spectrum, they could simply leave.  In fact, you may have seen article after article siting the survey that says 39% of workers would rather quit than return to the office full time.

more than half (58%) support their employer requiring that staff be vaccinated

Now, I will say that that particular survey was conducted with 1,000 adults in May by Morning Consult.  Since then they have continued to survey, and the findings are a bit more nuanced.  Actually, Morning Consult has a handy  Return to Normal tracker– I’ll put the link in the show notes – that shows the results of the latest surveys.  A recent check showed that 44% would like to either work full time in the office or in a 1 – 2 day per week remote hybrid model.  And tellingly   more than half (58%) support their employer requiring that staff be vaccinated.

So, it looks like you (mostly) have your team’s support in requiring vaccinations.  And that’s also in line with what’s happening in society at large.  Entertainment venues, restaurants, concerts, theatres – the list of places requiring proof of vaccination is growing by the day.  So, you’ll be in good company.

But the difference is – what do you do if they can’t or won’t get vaccinated.  Those other places can simply say, ‘well, then you can’t come in’.  But as an employer, you have some restrictions they don’t.  So, you’ll need a backup plan

By that I mean, you need to have a fully fleshed out idea of how you’ll handle people who request a religious or medical exemption from the policy.  You can’t just say – well, you can’t come in – because you may open yourself up to discrimination charges.  And besides – don’t overlook the fact that we may be talking about an employee that’s mission critical to the business.

And yes, I know that companies from Goldman Sachs to Shake Shack have instituted vaccine policies – but again, in most cases, they aren’t absolute.  For instance, Goldman requires either proof of vaccination, or the employee has to get a rapid COVID-19 test to be allowed on site – and they’ll have to be tested regularly.  Some other companies are requiring that employees get vaccinated or they have to work remotely, and aren’t allowed in the offices. (You know, in this environment, that kind of sounds like a desired incentive for undesired behavior, but whatever.)

So – while I can’t tell you what to do – I will tell you what we’re doing.

#1 – I am requiring that every member of the team disclose their vaccination status.  I didn’t have to create a deadline, because the policy came after everyone had already spoken openly about getting jabbed.  We’re a small team, and truth be told, they were excited about getting the shot so they told one another in real time.

#2 – As of this podcast, un-vaccinated employees have the option of weekly testing, or maintaining masking and social distancing protocols.  Now, I say, as of this podcast, because again – everything is fluid.  And once the FDA gives full approval for the vaccine, I expect a lot of companies will revise their policies to be full on mandates vs. simply company policies.  Meaning either get vaccinated, or go the weekly testing route – and even if you do weekly testing, you still have to mask and social distance.

In fact, in Los Angeles, where we are, all employees are required to wear masks indoors right now, no matter their vaccination status.  But even when that changes, we’ll still need unvaccinated colleagues to test and mask up.

– and –

#3 – We’re making all job candidates aware of our vaccination policy.

Now all this isn’t happening in a vacuum.  We installed anti bacterial sleeves on door handles, and key pads.  We have pure HEPA air filters for each workstation.  And we’re still masking up indoors.  My point is, stay on top of all the other ways you can support your team’s health, and create a protected environment.

And yes, all those things are great ideas.  But again, the biggest way I can find to protect my team – by far – is to require vaccines.  So, you have to make your own decision, and it’s never a bad idea to have a chat with counsel.  But, for Idomeneo – vaccine requirements are what we’re doing.

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