The Federal COVID-19 Action Plan has mandated vaccinations for federal employees, federal contractors and subcontractors, and health providers that are paid by Medicare and Medicaid. It also directed the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) under which private employers with 100 or more employees must require workers either to get vaccinated or to provide negative COVID-19 test results at least weekly to enter a company’s worksite.
Under the ETS, covered employers were required to develop and implement a written vaccination policy by December 6, 2021 and to begin enforcing their written employee testing policy by January 4, 2022.
While a federal circuit court has rendered the ETS unenforceable by issuing a temporary stay, the OSHA rules provide useful guidance for all employers, including those with less than 100 employees who are considering a requirement that their employees be vaccinated, as well as those with more than 100 employees who may wish to implement vaccine mandates and other policies on a voluntary basis.
However, many smaller employers are reluctant to require a COVID vaccine as a condition of employment, says John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey.
"They are not willing to deal with the tension of worker push-back or the possibility of some workers just saying, "I quit" he says.
A recent Mercer Survey shows 34 percent of employer - respondents already have some type of vaccine mandate in place.
There was no impact on turnover for 71 percent of those with mandates in place; however, 25 percent saw a slight increase in turnover (1%-5% above normal) and 4 percent saw a significant increase (more than 5% above normal).
The survey also shows little interest in implementing health plan premium surcharges, even though unvaccinated people are more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and require health care treatment, raising health plan costs and, potentially, future premium contributions for all employees.
Despite a few well-publicized examples of prominent employers implementing a surcharge, only 3 percent of employer-respondents currently have a surcharge or are definitely planning to add one, and only 14 percent are even considering it.
“The health surcharge requires careful consideration and a legal opinion, a non-starter for small employers,” says Sarno.
Fifteen percent of employer - respondents offer employees cash or a gift card as an incentive to be vaccinated, and 7 percent hold raffles. Additional time off is offered by 17 percent. Relatively few additional respondents – just 8 percent - say they are considering adding these types of incentives.
Based on the real-world experience of employers that have already implemented a mandate, turnover that can be attributed specifically to the mandate has not been as bad as feared. However, employers that have already taken the step of implementing a vaccine mandate voluntarily may have been confident that, with their particular workforce, significant turnover was not likely to result.
Recent data show that 20.96% of the adult population in New Jersey remain unvaccinated.
“After more than two years of dealing with COVID, encouraging workers to get vaccinated, maybe with some modest rewards, there appears to be a stalemate. Vaccine holdouts don’t appear to be budging and business owners don’t want the hassle of firing them or paying for their tests,” says Sarno.