When the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) started monitoring employee vaccine policies back in January 2021, a mere 5% of organizations reported intentions to require COVID-19 vaccinations once available. Nearly seven months later—in late July—that number had only risen by a few percentage points.
In fact, the numbers had remained so steady that we considered stopping our surveying about it—as well as the various approaches organizations were using to encourage employees to get vaccinated without mandating it, and focus more exclusively on the challenges of returning to the office and hybrid work models.
These days … how things change in a hurry.
The Delta variant has pushed employers from encouraging to mandating vaccinations
A few months ago, even with politically charged resistance to vaccines among a percentage of adults in the U.S., return to office plans were crystalizing. The data showed it—September 1st was the return to the office date set by many employers—and our ongoing discussions with HR leaders made clear that the conversation had changed from when to how.
The Delta variant gave a big middle finger to that planning. In just the last few weeks, 44% of companies have adjusted their return to office plans, with another 29% planning or considering doing the same.
But the more surprising pivot, arguably, is the sudden change in employee vaccination mandates. In that same timeframe, 20% of companies have changed their employee vaccine policies, with an additional 33% planning or considering changes as well—that’s over half of the 670 respondents to i4cp's August 2021 survey.
Why the change in employee vaccination policies?
The increased risks of the Delta variant due to its highly infectious nature and rapid surge pushed leaders to revise or suspend plans for bringing workers back to the office and pivot from suggesting or encouraging vaccinations to requiring them. The implications of the impact of the Delta variant to the overall health and well-being of employees are too serious to ignore (67% of those surveyed cited this as a pressing concern and challenge related to the Delta variant).
And what we’ve heard from the hundreds of HR leaders who have participated in our Getting Hybrid Work Right meeting series is that the safety of employees is the priority in decision making.
Having unvaccinated employees onsite goes against this priority.
A combination of just a few major companies announcing vaccine mandates in late July (Facebook and Google were among the first) and U.S. judicial decisions that affirmed employer rights to enforce vaccinations have emboldened companies to take a firmer stance going forward.
If you're wondering, this survey was conducted before the U.S. regulatory agency FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine; interestingly, only 1.9% of respondents indicated that they would implement mandates once such approval went into effect.
Vaccination mandates present incredibly complex challenges with no clear answers. Nearly 40% of those surveyed said that one of their organization’s most pressing concerns related to the Delta variant is dealing with employees who refuse to get vaccinated. Should they be fired? Allowed to work at home? How do employers deal with the political/media fallout of doing so?
And how should employers verify the vaccination status of employees? Nearly three-quarters (71%) of survey participants reported that proof of vaccination is or will be required by their organizations, but another quarter said they’ll rely on the honor system (i.e., self-reporting).
These are a but a few of the challenges in play today, and inevitably, more will arise.
Download i4cp’s Will Delta Derail Return to the Office? survey findings, and sign up for the biweekly Getting Hybrid Work Right meeting series to discuss employee vaccine mandates, return to office planning, and hybrid work solutions.