Bay Area employers wait and see on mandatory COVID vaccines

Of the many problems confronting Bay Area companies as they move out of pandemic lockdowns and into the workplaces of the future, one issue is proving especially thorny: Do they make their workers get COVID shots?

“The thing that I’m getting the most calls about right now is really, ‘What do we do about vaccinations? Can we mandate that all our employees get vaccinated? If we don’t mandate it, what happens if we have employees who don’t want to return to work unless everybody is vaccinated?’” said Bay Area labor lawyer Sandy Rappaport, who represents companies in matters of employment. “Employers are really struggling with it.”

A host of decisions confront businesses as they reopen offices, from how many employees they will bring in at a time, to reconfiguring interior spaces, installing barriers, improving ventilation and, in many cases, adopting hybrid models mixing on-site and remote employment. But the question of how to handle people’s vaccination status is perhaps the biggest challenge of all, requiring a delicate balancing act that protects all workers without violating their privacy or deeply held beliefs.

The law is clear: Companies can require workers to come into offices, and also impose a COVID vaccination requirement as a condition of employment. But just because they can mandate injections doesn’t mean they should, experts say.

“It’s not that easy, hiring and retaining good folks,” Rappaport said. “Do you really want to let people go who are otherwise good employees because they’re not agreeing to comply with your mandatory vaccination policy?”

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Apart from health care companies and some universities, most employers are – so far – encouraging vaccination but not requiring it. That’s the policy Google, Facebook and Uber have all adopted. A March survey by commercial real estate company Savills that included more than 100 U.S. tech firms found fewer than one in 10 said they would make vaccines mandatory for returning to the office, although more than half said they were still undecided.

San Jose technology giant Cisco isn’t mandating vaccinations. But in a presentation for suppliers posted on the firm’s website, it said workers who must be in its Bay Area offices now and as it ramps up to higher occupancy will have to be tested for coronavirus weekly.

Among major Bay Area tech companies, Salesforce is one of the few to publicly release detailed reopening plans. The business-software titan outlined a three-stage process that starts this month with “volunteer vaccinated cohorts” of 100 or fewer employees working in designated offices on specific floors in its San Francisco headquarters and in Palo Alto and Irvine. Unvaccinated workers would start coming back to offices in the second stage, Salesforce said, adding that “vaccinations will be encouraged.”

“We’re also not going to ask you to show us your vaccination records,” company benefits manager Katelyn Johnson said. “It’s easier to just make sure the workplace is safe through a testing strategy, which many, many companies across the U.S. are also doing.”

Though employers can require proof of vaccination, a worker’s status must be treated as …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

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