The latest workplace debate: Do employees want a COVID vaccine mandate?

While two COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by the FDA, a return to pre-pandemic norms is still a long way away. Employers will have to navigate difficult decisions regarding vaccine requirements, mask and social distancing mandates and other safety precautions.

Read more: Can employers mandate workers be vaccinated before returning to work?

A recent survey from Eagle Hill Consulting found that employees have varying opinions on these issues, making a one-size-fits-all approach difficult to implement.

“Different industries will have different needs, and employees clearly have differing views,” says Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting. “When there is meaningful employee engagement, employers may discover new approaches. For example, employee incentives rather than mandates might be more appealing to workers.”

Employees shared their attitudes on these common COVID safety precautions:

Vaccine mandates

Just half of employees believe their employer should require a COVID-19 vaccine before allowing employees to return to work, according to Eagle Hill Consulting. Gen Z employees were the most on-board with a vaccine mandate, with 62% supporting a requirement, compared to 46% of Gen X and Baby Boomer employees.

Enforcing a vaccine mandate could lead to complications and contention among employees, says Gary Pearce, chief risk architect at Aclaimant, a workplace safety and risk management platform.

“Private employers generally can require their employees to be vaccinated, but there are some exceptions, like medical conditions or religious objections,” Pearce says. “If somebody is very resistant to this mandate, they could be a workplace disrupter. There's still a lot of objection about vaccinations. Part of it is concern and part of it is ignorance.”

COVID testing

The Eagle Hill survey found that 46% of employees think employers should encourage COVID testing, with just 24% saying it should be a requirement for returning to work.

Employers like Google and TIAA have started making COVID testing easier than ever with access to free at-home test kits. Google is providing weekly testing for its 90,000 U.S.-based remote employees. TIAA launched free at-home testing for all U.S. employees and their families.

“During this time, we have been encouraging employees to stay home and stay safe. When employees have to leave their homes to get tested, there is an additional chance of exposure,” says Sean Woodroffe, CHRO at TIAA. “The zero-cost benefit of at-home COVID-19 testing provides our associates with convenient and immediate access.”

Social distancing requirements

Adhering to social distancing will be challenging once employees return to a physical office. However, 40% of employees believe their employer should enforce social distancing with a mandate, and 45% say social distancing should be encouraged in the workplace, the survey found.

In September, EisnerAmper released a free app designed to help employees practice social distancing when returning to work. The app measures workplace capacity and provides employees with a health questionnaire before giving them a badge that allows them access.

“Our goal is to ensure that our employees feel confident that we’re creating a safe work environment for when they are ready to return to the office,” said Amir Segev, chief information officer at EisnerAmper.

Masks

More than half of employees think their employer should enforce wearing masks in the workplace, even after a vaccine is widely available, according to the survey. Overall, 75% of Americans say they wear a mask every time they leave their home, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Providing masks and other equipment would make employees feel safer when returning to the workplace, the Eagle Hill Consulting survey found. Sixty-two percent said employers should provide hand-sanitizer, masks and gloves. However, just 40% of employees believe their organization has been proactive about addressing health concerns.

“This pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, and low employee confidence will further hamper an organization’s ability to steer through,” Eagle Hill president Jezior said.
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