On Requiring Covid Vaccination

We interrupt our regular schedule of ethics and compliance programming for fresh news about the Covid-19 pandemic: some statistics showing under what circumstances the public would or would not support vaccination requirements to participate in daily life.

The statistics come from research firm Gartner, which polled 346 U.S. consumers last month. The headline is that respectable majorities of the public support mandatory vaccination for travel- or healthcare-related activities — but decidedly fewer support proof of vaccination to participate in other more voluntary activities such as visiting a theme park or going to a wedding. Only 35 percent support the idea of mandatory vaccination if you want to work in an office. 

Figure 1, below, shows the level of support across 17 different activities people do on a daily basis. 

“Legal and compliance leaders for most organizations we speak to aren’t planning to mandate vaccines in their workplace,” Chris Audet, senior director of research in Gartner’s legal & compliance practice, said in a statement. “This data suggests that public opinion on the issue varies significantly according to the setting.”

I’m not so sure about that. The pattern I see in Figure 1 is that if an activity might put you personally or the ones you love at high risk, more people support strict vaccination requirements; hence the high support numbers for travel, hospitals, and working at a school or daycare. On the other hand, in circumstances where vaccination requirements would be more of a drag and a pain in the neck — going to a theme park, attending a wedding, shopping at the mall — people are less likely to support the idea. 

Or, more cynically: people support vaccination requirements in circumstances that aren’t likely to be that burdensome on them. But as soon as proving vaccination would be a burden, we don’t like it.

We should also note the 25 percent of the public who don’t support vaccination requirements under any circumstance (the yellow bar in Figure 1). I presume many of these people are driving around with a Trump/DeSantis 2024 bumper sticker on their cars.

Why Compliance Should Care About This

Compliance teams should care about this issue because, rest assured, it’s coming for your company and its corporate culture. 

Indeed, I even wonder if the statistics from Gartner are still valid today, considering how the delta variant has swept the United States and made the calculus of resuming normal business operations so much more difficult. Already, companies such as Google, Facebook, Morgan Stanley, Delta Airlines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Washington Post and others have said that employees must be vaccinated to work in U.S. offices. Some have made vaccination a requirement for new hires. I’d bet my mortgage payment that many more will soon follow.

Moreover, businesses in the United States already have the legal freedom to require vaccinations of their employees or job applicants; that’s not in question. 

The real question is how businesses implement such a policy, so that it squares with other fair labor policies and whatever corporate culture you’re trying to nurture.

For example, guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warns companies that not every demographic group has easy access to vaccinations; so if you implement a vaccination requirement and that disproportionately excludes, say, black or Latino employees, you do have a problem and it needs to be solved. (Possible solution: give harmed employees compensation, time off, or other support to get vaccinated, which does square with EEOC rules.)

Honestly, however, I’m more interested in the corporate culture challenges here than the legal ones. How can a large organization implement a vaccination requirement when one part of the population — and a politically concentrated one at that —  stubbornly refuses the very idea of vaccination?

That’s going to be a difficult chasm to traverse. Senior executives will need to be clear and precise about the need for vaccination, and how that policy relates to the company’s ethical priority of maintaining a safe workplace for all. Compliance officers will need to brace for calls to the internal hotline, complaining about employees who aren’t vaccinated, or are using fake vaccination certificates, or whatnot. (Prepare for complaints from the willfully unvaccinated too, outraged about infringements on their freedom or Bill Gates microchipping them or whatever.)

The bottom line is this: if the United States doesn’t increase its vaccination rate swiftly and sharply, the delta variant will keep our economy stuck in low gear and our lives stuck in anxiety. It will also force more mask mandates — which, let’s be honest, are a total buzzkill. If we go down that road, the vaccinated majority will vent their exasperation on the willfully unvaccinated knuckleheads who are ruining things for the rest of us. That’s a valid response to those knuckleheads, but it’s not going to help your corporate culture either. 

So I’d bet that vaccination requirements are going to sweep Corporate America. Compliance officers would do well to plan accordingly.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.