“The vaccines have been proven to be safe, they’re effective, and we have to do what’s best for our students and families. And once we have that framework in place, it’s a very simple decision,” said Peter Fortenbaugh, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.
As the country moves toward fully reopening and vaccinations become more readily available, businesses are exploring whether they can legally mandate new or existing staff to be vaccinated. The short answer is yes.
But there are two exemptions companies must allow for, according to the EEOC: for a disability or religious reasons.
“There’s an exception for religious accommodation,” said Johnny C. Taylor, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. “Secondly, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if someone has a disability and with that disability actually taking the shot might in fact put their lives at risk. Then there’s also an appropriate exception.”
When the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula announced the new vaccine mandate, a few employees raised concerns, according to Fortenbaugh. Employees have until mid-June to make their decision.
“We’re giving them time,” said Fortenbaugh. “But we are drawing a hard line in the sand that if you want to be present with students, you will have to have the vaccine.”
Time is what Bonnie Jacobson said she needed. Jacobson was a part-time server at Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn, New York, when the restaurant mandated the vaccine in February. But Jacobson told her manager she wanted to do more research about its effects on fertility before getting the shot.
“I feel like I’m allowed to have hesitations,” said Jacobson. “I feel like I should be allowed the time to do the research that I need and want to do.”
“I always wanted to get vaccinated. I needed to just make sure that I was 100% comfortable with it,” said Jacobson.
And now, after seeing studies that Covid-19 vaccines do not affect fertility, she says she’s fully vaccinated. Jacobson is working at two new restaurants that she says do not require her to be vaccinated, but still doesn’t think employers should mandate the vaccine in general.
“Listen to your employees, listen to what they’re saying, have a conversation,” Jacobson offers to employers. “See if you can meet somewhere in the middle and truly try to make firing someone a last resort.”
But according to the Society for Human Resource Management, more companies are looking into mandates. And those same organizations, legally, have the ability to fire employees who don’t comply.
“The employer can terminate you for any reason or no reason at all. The reason in this instance could be, you’re not taking the vaccination that’s been available to you, and therefore you can’t work here any longer,” said Taylor.
American Airlines is giving employees who get vaccinated an extra day off next year and $50 in the company’s employee recognition program. Target is giving its workers free Lyft rides to vaccination sites.
But many smaller companies say they can’t afford the incentives or to make vaccines optional, according to Taylor.
“Just think about it – one employee gets sick and you have 10 employees, you could end up having to shut your entire business down,” said Taylor. “They [small businesses] feel like there’s more pressure on them to ensure that they have a safe workplace for all employees. It directly hits their bottom line.”
Additional reporting by Kate Trafecante