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Vaccine Mandate

EMPLOYER SIZE A MAJOR FACTOR AS BUSINESS WAITS ON WASHINGTON 

By John Gallagher 

Vaccine mandates are likely to come to many Metro Detroit employers soon, if not already in place, although smaller employers, included the numerous firms with fewer than 100 workers, are more likely to make it a matter of personal choice. 

Nationwide, many employers seem to accept that mandatory shots are becoming a reality. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey found that the majority of U.S. employers now require or are planning to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The survey, conducted November 12 to 18, found that more than half (57%) of all respondents either require or plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations. That includes 18% that currently require vaccinations, 32% that plan to require vaccinations only if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) takes effect, and 7% that plan to mandate vaccinations regardless of the ETS status.  

The ETS rule, if upheld in court, would require employers with 100 or more workers to require vaccines, to provide options for compliance, to provide paid time for workers to get vaccinated and paid time to recover from side effects of the shot. The ETS allows employers to offer weekly testing as an option to unvaccinated employees. 

In Michigan, many of the largest employers acted first. By early fall, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis (the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) were requiring that all hourly and salaried workers in Canada be vaccinated against COVID-19. By December, Stellantis and Ford announced mandates for their salaried U.S. workforces, too. GM so far has not taken that step. 

Both Henry Ford Health System and Beaumont Health, two of Southeast Michigan’s major hospital systems, imposed vaccine mandates on their workforces and saw widespread compliance, with small percentages of non-compliant employees suspended or terminated.  

Some large employers are stopping short of vaccine mandates but requiring other safety protocols.  

Lansing-based Sparrow Health System said its workforce is mostly vaccinated but it requires weekly COVID testing for all of caregivers who are not fully vaccinated. 

Across the United States, vaccine mandates at the corporate level have gotten results. United Airlines recently reported that when it required all U.S.-based employees to get the COVID vaccine, 99.7% of its workers complied, not counting those who sought a religious or medical accommodation.  

At Tyson Foods, the company decided in August to require all U.S. team members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1 and more than 96% complied. As of mid-October, 97% of employees of Harvard University were reported to be fully vaccinated in compliance with a university directive. 

But if the largest employers are trending toward requiring vaccines as a condition of employment, or at least frequent testing and other safety protocols, smaller employers are much more likely to take a hands-off approach. As Sarah Miller, vice president of marketing and strategic communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan, puts it, her organization is “pro-vaccine but anti-mandate.” 

SBAM surveyed its membership in September and found that only 10% of the small-business respondents to the SBAM survey said they required that all their workers must be vaccinated. Another 12% required that unvaccinated employees must comply with other safety protocols such as remote work, wearing face masks, or social distancing. But 39% said they provided information on vaccines and encouraged employees to consider it but without a mandate; and another 39% agreed that the vaccination status of their workers was “none of my business.” 

Federal vaccine mandates, now tied up in the courts, have prompted concern over workers quitting rather than complying. In an already tight employment market, losing workers could cripple companies. 

John Gallagher is a freelance writer and author in Detroit, and formerly of the Detroit Free Press.