Only 52 percent of Kevin Smith’s 400 employees at his Massachusetts home health care agency have been vaccinated. He wants to give everyone the shot, but he says he can’t risk a mass exodus.
It’s a valid concern. With a record number of job openings and insufficient job candidates, the labor market is extremely tight. According to a June survey by health policy think tank KFF, when unvaccinated workers were asked what they would do if their employer implemented a mandate, half said they would quit.
“It puts you at risk of alienating the staff, if not losing them to a competitor,” said Smith, who has run the family-owned Best of Care since 2013. “No one can afford to do that. That is why any employer in our industry is so reluctant to impose a mandate.”
Employers are in a difficult position as a result of the labor market challenge and the public health crisis: due to a labor shortage, employer mandates are unlikely to be the answer to increasing the nation’s vaccination rate. But, according to experts, a higher inoculation rate is exactly what we need to end the pandemic.
Employers have the right to impose a vaccine mandate as long as there are exceptions for employees with health conditions that pose a risk or legitimate religious objections, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Yet “employers in a labor shortage environment don’t want to create any barrier for employment, let alone any cause for people to go elsewhere,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist for job site Ziprecruiter.
It’s unclear how many businesses have taken this step. According to a June survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, 29% of workers say their employers require vaccinations. Only 9% of those polled by Gartner at the end of July agreed.
Most employers, including hospitals, do not have vaccine mandates: Only 2,100 hospitals, or about a third of the country’s total, require vaccines, according to the American Hospital Association. And many of them are required by state laws or executive orders.
Even as household-name companies have begun implementing mandates in response to the Delta variant surge of Covid cases, Brian Kropp, chief of research at consulting firm Gartner’s HR practice, believes that figure will remain a minority.
They’re most common at major tech firms like Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB), as well as Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) (MS). But there’s a key distinction here: these employers provide high-paying jobs, as well as benefits and other perks that encourage employees to stay.
Many small businesses and other employers rely on hourly workers to fill most positions, so losing vaccine-skeptical employees and not being able to find vaccinated workers to replace them is a greater concern.
“If you run a restaurant or a store and you have employees who are vaccine-hesitant, they are going to quit and go to the store or restaurant next door,” said Kropp. “It’s a whole lot easier for people to switch jobs, particularly in today’s labor market.”
Even some employers with stable workforces are wary of requiring vaccinations. While United Airlines (UAL) recently mandated vaccinations for all US employees, rivals American (AAL), Delta (DAL), and Southwest (LUV) have not yet to do so.