What you need to know about corporate vaccine mandates.

What you need to know about corporate vaccine mandates.

After staying quiet on vaccine mandates for months, companies began this summer to announce new requirements as vaccination rates stalled and the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus began to spread.

The issue has been a delicate balance for employers, weaving in politics, health and privacy. But the government has put increasing pressure on employers to play a role in helping to vaccinate the country — and executives are desperate to get back to a degree of normalcy.

On Thursday, President Biden said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was drafting draft a rule mandating that all businesses with 100 or more workers require their employees to either get vaccinated against the coronavirus or face mandatory weekly testing. That move would affect some 80 million workers.

Even before that announcement, mandates and inducements by city, state and federal governments, as well as full Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, made it easier for executives to go ahead.

Corporate vaccine mandates began to roll out substantially in late July, shortly after the Biden administration announced that it was requiring all civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing and other strict requirements. Walmart and Disney led the way, followed by others including Uber and Google. When the F.D.A. granted its approval on Aug. 23, more mandates came flooding in from Goldman Sachs, Chevron and others.

Still, many are not comprehensive. Companies like Walmart and Citigroup have mandates for their corporate employees, but not frontline workers. Many companies are dealing with labor shortages and varying levels of vaccine hesitancy across state lines.

In a recent Willis Towers Watson survey of nearly 1,000 companies, which together employ almost 10 million people, 52 percent of respondents said they planned to have vaccine mandates by the end of the year, compared with 21 percent that said they already had vaccine requirements.

The approach to mandates runs the gamut. Some, like Tyson Foods, which is requiring vaccines for its entire U.S. work force, have said that vaccines are a condition for employment. United Airlines has said it will fire employees who do not abide by the airline’s vaccine mandate or get an exemption; those who are exempt will be placed on temporary leave, in many cases unpaid.

Others, though, have worked a degree of flexibility into their requirements. Many, like AstraZeneca, are offering employees with religious or medical exemptions to undergo weekly testing as an alternative to vaccination. Some, including UBS, have said employees who do not want the vaccine may work from home.

A recent poll by Aon of 583 global companies found drastically different policies. Of employers that have vaccine mandates, 48 percent said they were allowing for religious exemptions; just 7 percent said they would fire a worker for refusing to get vaccinated.

Companies are offering incentives to persuade workers to get the vaccine. Some, such as Kroger, have offered bonuses, while others have provided vaccinations in the workplace and additional paid time off to increase inoculation rates.

But others are using deterrents, including loss of employment. Delta Air Lines, for example, is requiring unvaccinated employees to pay an extra $200 a month to stay on the airline’s health plan. Other companies are restricting office entry for those who are not vaccinated.

Workers who are unvaccinated because of a disability or conflicting religious beliefs have been told that they must follow strict safety guidelines like regular coronavirus testing, masking and social distancing. Some are allowed to work remotely.

Companies are legally permitted to make employees get vaccinated, according to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, though a number of states have proposed legislation limiting the ability to mandate for employees or guests.

Employers are allowed to ask about a worker’s vaccination status, which is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. The law, which protects a patient’s confidential health information, applies only to companies and professionals in the health care field.

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