Company Vaccinations - Incentivized vs. Mandatory
The FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization for two COVID-19 vaccines. As the COVID vaccine continues to get distributed to essential workers and vulnerable members of our community, many companies such as Trader Joes, Instacart, Dollar Tree and Target to name a few are incentivizing their employees to get the vaccine. Law firms have to ponder whether their employees should be required to obtain the vaccine or to incentivizing their employees before allowing them to go back to the office. Making this type of decision is a complicated matter due to opposing legal and cultural views regarding the proverbial issue of public health versus individual rights and given the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID.
In Brazil, the Federal Supreme Court justices decided that vaccination against COVID can be made mandatory. However, we know that there would be tremendous opposition for such a mandate here in the United States under the Freedom of Choice argument. Firm management would have to consider whether it is worth preserving the group's survival at the expense of giving up some individual rights or whether taking this approach is a dangerous precedent.
It is undeniable that the COVID pandemic was something that we have not experienced before. The transmission rate and seriousness of the COVID and its variants presents firms an obligation to its employees and clients to mitigate the spread of the virus. One can argue that it is the responsibility for management to take a strict approach and impose or incentivize the COVID vaccine on their employees working in their offices.
Many essential workers view the vaccine as a blessing. A large portion of the general population has a positive outlook on the necessity of the vaccine to achieve herd immunity to work toward the eradication of the pandemic. On the other hand, others do not seem to share the same sentiment. Some non-supporters spoke of harsh side effects or allergic reactions after the vaccine was administered.
Employers in the medical field, already mandate their employees receive a series of vaccines including the flu vaccine. Although expanding these same policies and practices to include mandatory COVID vaccinations may, on the one hand, bring a sense of calm to most workforces, it could also potentially invite fear and resistance from others. After all, the medical field vastly differs from the legal sector in its operation.
The lockdown measures mandated by cities around the country last year forced firms to adapt to a pure virtual model for the duration of the lockdown and even now a large number of firms are still working remotely. As stated by Bob Tomaso, Office Managing Partner at Husch Blackwell, "Businesses may generally require employees to get the vaccine before coming into work. There may well be exceptions for disabled employees or those with good faith religious objections, but, in the "Work From Home" age, many employers would be wise to consider accommodating employees who refuse to get the vaccine by allowing them, if practical, to work from home."
Regardless of what side you are on, there is an agreement between opposing parties that long term implications are still unknown. Law firms will face pressure from both sides of the argument to take a stand regarding how they can safely open their offices to their employees and clients in light of our fight against COVID. While some firm leaders may believe that imposing or incentivizing COVID vaccines to their employees is the resolution to protecting their workforce, others do not. The common agreement shared by all is steps must be taken to mitigate employees risk and implement the highest level standards to ensure everyone’s safety.