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Small and large businesses must deal with employee vaccination issue

Opinion

Andrew McNeil (andrewm@arrowbenefitsgroup.com, 707-992-3789) and Rosario Avila (rosarioa@arrowbenefitsgroup.com, 707-992-3795) are senior benefits advisers at Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma.

Prior to the recent announcement from the Biden Administration that federal regulators will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated (or required those who did not vaccinate to show proof of a negative test result on a weekly basis), it was already becoming common for large employers to either mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or penalize those employees that choose to not do it.

We appreciate that there are people who feel differently about the vaccine, be it for medical, religious or other personal reasons.

So, for employers (no matter the size) that simply want to require that everyone to be vaccinated, we pose the question: Does that decision really make sense for the company?

In June, a survey by Willis Towers Watson was released indicating that nearly 72% of U.S. employers do not plan on requiring COVID-19 vaccination prior to re-entering the workspace.

However, the Delta variant and Biden’s mandate have changed this outcome. In August a survey by Reuters polled “961 U.S. companies that together employ around 9.7 million people” and estimated that “by the fourth quarter of 2021, over 52% of employers could have one or more vaccine mandate requirements, an increase from 21% currently” and moving forward this number will likely only rise.

Clearly, our new world demands we stay creative and proactive in serving our employees.

How you navigate through this pandemic will say absolutely everything about you and your company. This time in history is your opportunity to create an even more cohesive, empowered, positive culture for your business.

Large employers

In late August, Delta Airlines announced that it will require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face the alternative of weekly testing and a $200 monthly surcharge for health insurance premiums.

Stopping short of a full vaccine mandate. With that said, it appears (at least in the case of Delta Airlines) the move to require vaccines is more of a financial one. According to Delta’s CEO the average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person and the $200 health insurance surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk to the company because of the decision to not vaccinate (since the spread of the delta variant, no Delta Airlines employee hospitalized with COVID-19 had been vaccinated).

Small employers

For smaller employers, (under 100 employees) which make up most of the businesses in the North Bay, the reasons to require employees to get a COVID vaccine won’t be a financial one (as far as insurance premiums go for now). Some have taken the position that requiring everyone to be vaccinated is doing their part to help end the pandemic.

However, this stance brings on more challenges than solutions, as the employee shortage continues. Most small employers we have spoken to prefer to recommend the vaccine for employees who are coming into the office instead of demanding it.

For some companies this could make the difference of staying open for business or having to close due to lack of employees.

Will this change in the coming months as the unemployment benefits begin to cease? Only time will tell. For many, this has helped with the argument to continue having employees work remotely.

According to the Morning Consult survey reported by Bloomberg, 39% of adult workers said they'd consider quitting if their bosses weren't flexible about them working from home.

Continued culture transformation

This pandemic has served as a catalyst for workplace renovation. We know your goal is company success and longevity.

Regardless of where you stand on the vaccine, we advocate being as transparent as possible with employees. Whether you will need to mandate a vaccine, design a specific protocol or as you follow the various directives handed down, it is vital to carefully explain to your employees the reasons why you have come to your specific decision.

Not communicating will ultimately negatively impact the culture of your company which will have long term effects. Disengaged employees are a huge problem for businesses in terms of corporate culture, and in costs as well.

Employers will greatly benefit by staying focused on steps they can take to help make all their employees feel safe.

For now, businesses can continue to institute an on-premises mask mandate as well as have ample hand sanitizers and COVID tests, also extending the work from home policy well into 2022 — all while encouraging and incentivizing employees to get vaccinated.

We have seen employers do this by offering a small cash stipend, make accommodations for vaccine appointments and offer longer paid time off not just for the vaccine appointment time, but also any potential rest that is needed afterwards.

Either way communication and a level of compassion during this tumultuous time is key for your ultimate success.

Opinion

Andrew McNeil (andrewm@arrowbenefitsgroup.com, 707-992-3789) and Rosario Avila (rosarioa@arrowbenefitsgroup.com, 707-992-3795) are senior benefits advisers at Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma.

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