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Vaccinations: Should You Mandate Your Employees?

One of the most controversial topics today is the mandate of COVID vaccinations. For those on the side of mandating, their argument is that it will help slow down the spread of Covid-19 and its variants. On the other side are those who believe they should have a say on whether to take the vaccine or not.

Currently there is momentum in the enforcement of COVID vaccinations camps. In July, President Joe Biden announced the mandate for COVID vaccinations for all federal workers and contractors. Several states have implemented their own mandates either in line or above what is mandated on a federal level.

New York City came up with its “Key to NYC Pass” which basically states that citizens and visitors must show proof of vaccination for access to most indoor activities, including gyms, restaurants and performances. Employers are starting to mandate that their employees get the shot too. In fact, most states, other than Montana, private employers can mandate vaccination of any or all of their workers.

Many states are allowing those who refuse the vaccination to use a medical or religious-belief exemption. Employers who abide by the employee exemptions can mandate the employee be regularly tested and wear a mask while at work.

Why Mandate

The argument for mandating employees stems from the breakout of the Delta variant. Just when it looked like COVID was going away, surges in hospitalized patients with the variant skyrocketed. The theory is that if people get vaccinated it would slow down the spread of the virus.

Vaccination mandates may be a viable option for some employers. Others may need to closely consider what to do with employees who refuse the vaccine. In right-to-work states, the employee can be terminated with no repercussions. But in an environment where it is already difficult to find workers, is this the right option to take?

Many in the hospitality industry have taken action regarding the COVID vaccinations. The New York Times reports that accommodations such as PUBLIC Hotel, Equinox Hotel and Wythe Hotel are among the first in the US to announce that they will require evidence of vaccination for all staff members and guests.

Others are following suit, including Urban Cowboy Lodge in Big Indian, N.Y., and Pilgrim House in Provincetown, MA. MGM Resorts International asked salaried employees who are not exclusively working from home to get vaccinated by October 15, 2021. Additionally, all new hires who are not exclusively working from home must also get the vaccine. Any unvaccinated employees at the Las Vegas properties must be regularly tested for the virus.

But most of the national hotel chains are not mandating their employees get COVID vaccinations. Marriott International encourages its employees to get vaccinated and offers financial incentives through its Vaccination Care Program.

Some in the industry are still on the fence about mandating. The American Hotel and Lodging Association recently issued safety guidelines, in line with the Centers Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

But then all 900 employees at the MS Coast Scarlet Pearl Casino had to get the vaccine or be terminated. There were many holdouts and some did quit, but the majority complied with the mandate. It is not a majority either way of mandated and non-mandated in this industry.

Before You Mandate

Mandating employees to get the vaccine seems like a simple fix for the current crisis. Unfortunately it is not that simple. There is a sense of confusion worldwide over the COVID-19 virus. Much of it can depend on what political view you have and what latest medical website you visited.

But the one thing most can agree on is that we are in a “Falling Coconut” moment. A simple term used in science to describe something unusual and not common.

Because of this, it would be wise to understand the implications on your business before you mandate the vaccine. On the one side, it will be seen as doing a service to your community, country and world to get your employees vaccinated. Not to be completely focused on business, but in some circles it would be seen as a good marketing event.

On the other side, you may be seen as a dictator ordering your employees to do something against their will—“Our bodies, our choice!” Doing so may cause you to lose a portion of your workforce. But from a legal standpoint, the laws have been amended so that you are not violating any HIPPA laws by asking if an employee got the vaccine and/or requesting that they do.

According to a Society for Human Resources (SHRM) article, employers considering mandating COVID vaccinations should consider the following questions:

  1. What kind of mandate will you implement? Will it be a hard mandate where employees get vaccinated or, if they don’t have an exemption, are fired? Or will it be a soft mandate where it is suggested employees get vaccinated?
  2. Will you offer an open-ended exemption to vaccine opponents as an alternative? This is where you allow them to refuse without explanation.
  3. Will you require employees to offer a religious exemption for refusing? The standard is that the employer has to accommodate those with sincere religious objections unless doing so creates an undue burden on the employer. For religious accommodations, unlike disability-related accommodations, undue burden is no more than minimal costs; for disability-related accommodations, undue hardship is a higher standard and much more difficult to prove.
  4. Will you require employees to offer medical exemption for refusing? What if you are presented with a medical note that states the employee has an immune-deficiency disease? Will you be prepared to accommodate?
  5. What effect the mandate will have on the workforce? Will you fire employees for not getting the vaccine?

The Choice Isn’t So Clear

Many businesses inside and outside the hospitality industry have already mandated their employees get vaccinated. These include Amtrak, Facebook, McDonald’s (office workers). Microsoft and Twitter. Some have lost or fired employees for not complying and others have offered incentives to get the vaccine.

COVID can affect you in any segment of the hospitality industry. Heated discussions and debates have risen out of this topic and will continue as long as the virus exists. It would be wise to continue to study the subject and seek input from others in the industry before taking action.

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