Headshot of a dark-haired woman
Natalie Egnot

A pending federal vaccine mandate from the Biden Administration, expected in the next few days, requires companies with 100 or more employees to get their workers fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Small businesses aren’t covered by the mandate, but many private employers of all sizes are asking their employees to get vaccinated; federal contractors are already required to have a fully vaccinated workforce by Dec. 8th. 

Business groups have been begging President Joe Biden to delay the new federal mandate, fearing workers will flee if it’s passed. The situation might not be quite as dire as they predict. Though about 37% of unvaccinated workers say they will quit their jobs if forced to either get vaccinated or take weekly Covid tests, the number of people actually quitting may be far lower. Anecdotal evidence from companies suggests that fewer than 5% of people actually quit rather than getting the shot. 

Still, businesses are wise to tread carefully. If your company is under a mandate, or you are considering creating one, or you’d like to encourage more workers to get vaccinated, the key is in effective, personal communication, says Natalie Egnot, a Pittsburgh-based senior health scientist with Cardno ChemRisk, a scientific consulting firm, who has helped companies with their COVID-19 response.

Facts may help, she wrote in an emailed statement. But what will help more is for leaders to start one-on-one, personal conversations. 

“Although these conversations may be challenging and require a substantial investment of a manager’s time, they provide managers with an opportunity to hear, and possibly address, an individual staff member’s concerns,” she wrote in the emailed response. “(They) can help reinforce the message that the employer is invested in the health and well-being of their staff.” 

Getting your staff vaccinated in compliance with a mandate mostly comes down to organized and consistent communication, she said. She offered the following tips:

  • Put together a team to promote and monitor staff vaccinations. A good mix of people would be representatives from leadership, human resources and legal departments. It’s also helpful to include third-party experts, she says. 
  • Create a confidential system for collecting and managing proof of vaccination status or test results, which will allow employers to show they’re complying to the mandates, she writes. The system will help to determine which, if any, employees need to undergo regular testing, and direct appropriate resources to staff who remain hesitant to get vaccinated, she writes. 
  • Communicate policies early and often, offer forums for feedback and questions and provide factual information about COVID-19 risks and vaccine safety, she writes. 

If it’s possible, companies should also host vaccine clinics, or connect employees with local resources to make vaccination more accessible for their staff, she said.

Domino Effect

The new federal mandate will likely require employees who refuse to undergo testing every week, she writes. (If an employer mandates vaccines and doesn’t offer testing, 72% of the unvaccinated workers say they will quit, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation).

That’s a hefty task for some companies, who may not have the resources to test every unvaccinated employee if its number is high, she said. This could motivate employers to enforce their mandate — such as making COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment, she said.  

The current mandate for federal employees and contractors and private ones have certainly showcased hesitancy. Nearly 1,900 Washington state workers quit or were fired over its vaccine mandate. Workers at NorthShore Hospital System in the Chicago-area sued the system for mandating vaccines, citing religious reasons for avoiding the shots. 

Egnot is optimistic. “While there certainly is a bit of anxiety about mass resignation and disruption around the mandate deadline, vaccine mandates ultimately are protective of worker health and safety and will reduce pandemic-related disruption in the long term,” she wrote. “For that reason, I’ve seen many employers and employees respond positively to these sweeping mandates.”

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.