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Companies Plan to Clamp Down on Vaccine Mandate Noncompliance


Roughly a month after the Biden administration announced its vaccine mandate, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its emergency temporary standard (ETS) for private employers with 100 or more employees.

OSHA submitted its draft of the proposed enforcement standards to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review on Oct. 12, which makes the vaccine mandate an impending compliance reality for most private employers.

OSHA’s ETS for private employers is considered a “soft mandate,” meaning employees can choose to receive a COVID vaccination or undergo weekly COVID testing. Federal workers and contractors that do business with the federal government face a “hard mandate,” meaning vaccination is a condition of employment, unless workers have a religious or medical reason for exemption.

WorldatWork recently conducted a quick poll to gauge the preparedness of employers subject to the impending vaccine mandate, which carries fines of up to $14,000 per violation for non-compliance.

Given these potentially hefty fines, 27% of the 238 employers that responded to the survey said they will terminate employees who refuse to comply with the new mandate. Additionally, 62% said they have not made a decision yet as to whether they will fire an employee who doesn’t comply, while 11% indicated they would not terminate non-complying employees.

“The goal here is to keep everyone as safe as absolutely possible,” said Scott Cawood, CEO of WorldatWork. “And I hope employers and workers find as much common ground as possible so that we emerge from this deadly pandemic ready to confront the numerous challenges together.”

Uncertainty still remains about whether employers will bear the full responsibility of paying for testing and what the wage-and-hour implications are for non-exempt workers as it relates to COVID testing. This transition could be especially difficult for many organizations, as WorldatWork’s survey found that 54% of employers do not currently have a policy for COVID-19 vaccination or testing and just 5% of companies currently require all non-remote employees to get routine testing.

Roughly half the organizations surveyed are currently adhering to the soft mandate, as 25% indicated they already require all non-remote employees to be vaccinated against COVID, while 22% said employees have the option of either getting a vaccine or getting tested on a routine basis.

Given the increasingly remote environment of many businesses, OSHA has indicated that remote employees are not included as part of the mandate. There are, however, implementation concerns, as 69% of employers said they expect it to be difficult or very difficult. Additionally, there are heightened employee attrition worries for employers, especially given the tight labor market.

“The vaccine mandate definitely creates more wrinkles for employers as they navigate current staffing and retention challenges, said Deirdre Macbeth, content director, regulatory, at WorldatWork. "There is no easy solution and organizations will need to do a risk-benefit analysis of the implementation options to determine the best path forward.”

More than 85% of respondents said they are at least somewhat concerned about losing employees over the mandate, while 14% indicated they were “extremely concerned.”

Delta Airlines made headlines in late August when it announced that, beginning Nov. 1, all employees who remained unvaccinated would face a $200 monthly increase in their health insurance premiums. CEO Ed Bastian cited the steep costs associated with insuring employees who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 as the impetus for the decision.

“The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person. This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” wrote Bastian, noting that all Delta employees who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the emergence of the B.1.617.2 variant were not fully vaccinated.

WorldatWork’s survey found that 5% of organizations have instituted similar surcharges to the health plans of employees who remain unvaccinated. Additionally, 43% said they had not made a decision yet as to whether they will do the same.

Additional data from the survey included:

  • 63% of employers feel the mandate has made it easier to request that employees get vaccinated.
  • 25% of employers said they are currently offering incentives for employees to get vaccinated.
  • Of the employers not currently offering vaccine incentives, 66% said they have no plans to do so in the next three months, while 34% said they have not made a decision yet.

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