At the beginning of every year, SIA’s CWS Council team presents its predictions of the top things to look out for in our industry in the coming 12 months.

Back in January, in our What to Expect in 2021 and Beyond webinar, I predicted that by the end of the first quarter we would see “widespread guidance/directives issued to employers regarding their health and safety obligations relating to employee Covid-19 vaccinations.”

Difficult Stance

Not all predictions come true — and this one is no exception. The absence of government guidance/directives on this subject has left organizations in an extremely difficult position, balancing between seemingly conflicting rights and responsibilities.

[UPDATE: On Sept. 9, the Biden administration fulfilled my prediction by issuing a mandate for large employers (those with 100 or more workers) to require workers be vaccinated or that employees show a negative Covid-19 test at least weekly.] 

On the one hand, workers have the right to go into the workplace and earn a living to provide for their families. On another hand, workers have the right to insist on a safe working environment before returning to the workplace, and employers are obligated to provide that safe environment. But on yet another hand, individuals have the right of free choice over whether to have a vaccination or not.

For months now, this veritable challenge has been simmering on the back burner until it inevitably boiled over in the last few weeks in the US as Covid cases continue to increase. The reason for this is, I believe, because organizations and the wider economy are just not capable of suffering through yet another shutdown.

As a result, organizations are beginning to take matters into their own hands and insisting, to varying degrees, on mandatory vaccination programs for their workers.

Mandatory Vaccinations?

The first to catch my eye were Google and Facebook each requiring Covid vaccinations for workers at their US offices. Microsoft soon announced its own policy to require vaccinations of employees, vendors — including contingent workers — and anyone else entering its US buildings.

Then came a news report that CNN had fired three employees for coming to work without getting a Covid vaccine. States soon began issuing mandates for public employees such as teachers and healthcare workers.

As we start to see more and more organizations implement mandatory vaccination programs, there are clearly concerns around the business impact these will have.

The Impact

There will be concerns that such programs will deter potential employees and contingent workers from joining and that organizations without mandatory programs will benefit by  hiring those workers who (for their own non-medical/non-religious reasons), are either reluctant or refuse to be vaccinated. Some organizations have already taken a stand in that regard, specifically eschewing mandates in order to appeal to reluctant staff.

There will also be concerns around attrition levels and productivity. As you can see, this dilemma starts to become extremely complicated!

One approach to the mandatory rationale I have seen that resonates with me — and not everybody will agree — is that this is being done for the good of the world and to get us back to some sense of normality as fast as possible, based on the belief that the more people that are vaccinated, the quicker this will happen.

Going back to that January 2021 webinar, in the absence of any government directive in this matter, I believe that we are going to see a growing number of significant corporations taking a position on mandatory vaccinations, in an effort to do the right thing for society and to avoid further economic damage, which I believe will have an even greater detrimental impact on society.

Like all inevitabilities, this one will play out over the coming months; I, for one, am eager to play a part in where we go as an industry from the starting point of today.