Workplace Vaccine Mandates Expected To Accelerate

Employers plan to ramp up tracking and proof requirements while intensifying efforts to encourage more employees to get vaccinated, finds Willis Towers Watson survey.

The number of U.S. employers requiring workers to get vaccinated is expected to surge over the next several months, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson. The survey also found that more companies will be implementing financial incentives and expanding testing requirements as they update plans to reopen worksites.

The Summer 2021 COVID-19 Vaccination and Reopening the Workplace Survey of 961 U.S. employers, who employ 9.7 million workers, was conducted between August 18 and 25. It found that by the fourth quarter of 2021, over half (52%) of employers could have one or more vaccine mandate requirements in the workplace. These range from requiring vaccination for employees to access common areas such as cafeterias to requiring vaccination for a subset of employees to requiring vaccination for all employees. This is a dramatic increase from the current 21%. Specifically, nearly a third (29%) of employers are planning or considering making vaccination a requirement to gain access to the workplace, and almost a quarter (21%) are planning or considering vaccination as a condition of employment for all employees.

vaccinated workplace mandates
(Credit: Getty Images/Drazen Zigic)

Additionally, the number of employers that will track whether employees have completed their vaccination is increasing. Nearly six in 10 (59%) currently track their workers’ vaccination status, and another 19% are planning or considering doing so later this year. A majority (62%) of those require proof of vaccination, such as completed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, while 36% rely on employees to self-report.

“The Delta variant has made employers take new actions to keep their workers — and workplaces — safe and healthy. We expect even more employers to institute vaccine mandates in the wake of FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader, Willis Towers Watson. “This is not an easy situation for employers to navigate. For instance, new policies such as tracking workers’ vaccinations can improve safety but also bring additional administrative requirements. At the same time, employers will continue efforts to encourage vaccination and communicate regularly with employees.”

Nearly four in 10 employers (39%) now expect their organizations won’t reach a new normal in terms of returning to the workplace and ending pandemic-related policies and programs until the second quarter of 2022.

Nearly two in 10 organizations (17%) offer financial incentives for getting vaccinated, with another 14% planning or considering doing so. Cash payments from $100 to $199 are the most common financial incentive. Only 2% of employers currently offer a discount to vaccinated employees or impose a premium surcharge on unvaccinated employees. Another 18% are considering one or both approaches. Most employers at this point are not planning or considering either of these financial tactics.

The survey identified the following actions companies are taking or considering as they rethink their reopening plans due to the Delta variant:

  • Mask mandates: Eight in 10 respondents (80%) require employees to wear masks indoors at any location. Another 13% are planning or considering doing so.
  • Tracing: Three in four employers (75%) use workplace exposure tracing to alert employees to a potential exposure. Another 8% are planning or considering doing so.
  • Return to normal: Nearly four in 10 employers (39%) now expect their organizations won’t reach a new normal in terms of returning to the workplace and ending pandemic-related policies and programs until the second quarter of 2022. About a quarter (26%) expect a return to the new normal in the first quarter of next year.

“We have reached a point in the pandemic where employers that have worked hard to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated are also considering approaches to make it more difficult for employees to remain unvaccinated,” said Dr. Levin-Scherz. “The one certainty right now is that employers will continue to adjust their plans through the remainder of 2021. While some employers will institute more frequent testing, workplace restrictions on the unvaccinated, and vaccination mandates, all will have one common goal in mind — to keep their workforce healthy and productive by minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the workplace.”

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