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09 February 2021

Most companies avoiding mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, Littler survey finds

Concerns over legal liability and employee morale deterring enforced jabs

By Ben Edwards

3D rendering of a coronavirus vaccine syringe plus a vaccine vial with COVID-19 written on it, all against a backdrop of a printed map of the US portraying the process of vaccination.

msvisuals; Shutterstock

Most employers are unlikely to force their employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a new report by employment and labour law specialists Littler. 

The Covid-19 Vaccine Employer Survey Report surveyed more than 1,800 in-house lawyers, HR professionals and C-suite executives in the US and found that less than 1% of companies have so far considered mandatory employee vaccinations, with almost half (48%) completely writing off such a measure. Some 43% said they are still undecided.

The most common reasons for opposing mandatory vaccinations are around company culture and employee relations. Almost eight in 10 respondents cited potential resistance from employees who refuse to get vaccinated, while 64% said they were concerned about legal liability, particularly if an employee had an adverse reaction to a vaccine. A further 57% questioned the effectiveness of mandatory vaccinations given the potential number of legitimate exemptions, such as for religious or medical reasons. Most companies said they will opt to simply encourage vaccine uptake instead.

Barry Hartstein, leader of Littler’s Covid-19 vaccination working group, said: “Given the wide range of legal and practical considerations employers must balance in establishing Covid-19 vaccination policies, it’s not surprising that most are currently planning to encourage, rather than mandate, immunisation.”

Steps companies said they are taking to encourage vaccine uptake include offering jabs to be administered on company premises to increase convenience (37%), as well as offering paid time off to receive the vaccine or recover from any side effects (33%). A further 11% said they would offer incentives for employees to get vaccinated, such as cash awards or other monetary benefits.

Despite the increase in vaccine availability, companies said they are likely to keep existing safety measures in place, such as remote working and social distancing in the workplace. Roughly half (49%) said they plan to extend remote working until the summer, with 37% allowing employees to return on a voluntary basis. 

Devjani Mishra, a leader of Littler’s task force and return-to-work scheme, said: “It’s tempting to see vaccines as a cure-all for the extreme disruption wrought by Covid-19. But the reality is they are just one arrow in the quiver for employers, who must continue existing safety protocols, including symptom screenings, travel restrictions, face masks and distancing.”

She added: “Especially in the transition period – when some workers are vaccinated, and others are not – organisations must remain hyper-vigilant in enforcing these policies as a matter of workplace safety, while being mindful of employee morale.”

Further reading

Can 'no shot' get you fired? The risks of a compulsory vaccine policy

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