President Biden recently announced the most sweeping COVID-19 vaccine requirements yet, including directing OSHA to write an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requirement that all employees at companies with at least 100 employees be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. The White House estimates this change alone will affect more than 80 million workers. i4cp's CEO Kevin Oakes and senior research analyst Tom Stone discussed the implications this mandate may have on your organization.
In addition, this week's special guest was Stephanie Frias, Chief People Officer at Lyra Health, who shared her insights on mental health and hybrid work. This topic has become top-of-mind for nearly every organization as they make tough decisions about remote work, return to the office, and flexible policies—as those decisions will have a profound impact on culture, employer brand, and the ability to attract and retain talent.
Some highlights of the discussion on vaccination, testing, etc:
- You can read the entire text of President Biden's COVID-19 Action Plan. We focused on the parts that are most relevant for employers, which can be found in the "Vaccinating the Unvaccinated" section.
- We asked the following participant poll question: Do you expect President Biden’s announcement of private and public sector vaccine mandates to affect your organization?
- 15% Yes, previously we were not planning to require vaccines and now we expect to lose employees as a result
- 31% Yes, we wanted to require vaccines but struggled with the decision. It makes our lives easier
- 27% No, we already require vaccines so this simply justified the decision
- 7% No, I work for a company with fewer than 100 employees
- 20% Too soon to tell / not sure
- Remote workers. One area of uncertainty is whether the forthcoming OSHA ETS will cover remote workers or not, as OSHA often distinguishes between onsite workers and those not onsite. If a distinction is made, organizations might vary in how they treat remote workers, with some offering them a vaccination/testing exemption but others not. One distinction mentioned is between fully remote workers (never onsite) and those that are mostly remote (if ever on-site, then vaccination required). This consideration raises many issues such as equality for workers across the organization, but also employee retention and attraction challenges in the heightened war for talent.
- Contractors onsite. Another question is regarding contractors who arrive onsite. Even if the OSHA ETS does not include contractors, some participants on the call said their organization is already requiring vaccination for any workers onsite.
- Cost of weekly tests. We asked a participant poll question: If unvaccinated employees will be required to produce a weekly negative test to work onsite, will your organization cover the cost of tests? The results were:
- 17% Yes, completely
- 2% Yes, partially
- 7% No, unvaccinated employees will need to cover the costs themselves
- 12% No, we are mandating full vaccination for all employees who will work onsite and not allowing weekly tests
- 47% No decision yet
- 15% Don’t know
- Termination. Call participants discussed the question of what will be the result (unpaid leave of absence? termination?) if employees refuse whatever the organization requires, whether vaccination and/or weekly negative test results.
- Candidate communication. Another issue is how vaccination-related requirements are being communicated to candidates during the hiring process. As with other aspects of hybrid and flexible work, exactly what the message is can either attract or deter different types of candidates. Some organizations are including this information during the first communication with a recruiter, others are including it directly in the job posting.
Highlights from the discussion of mental health:
- Frias described Lyra's focus is on increasing access of care, quality of care, and breadth of care, often as a supplement to an organization's EAP or healthcare plan.
- Due to the events of the past 18 months, we are seeing increases in AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder), SUD (Substance Use Disorder), and suicidality, which are some of the more severe issues that mental health services can support.
- Frias also noted that events of the past 18 months have caused increases in work-related stress, such as HR and customer experience employees needing to deal with more difficult situations such as terminations, furloughs, etc.
- There has been as shift in expectations for managers, from treating conversations around mental health as taboo to often encouraged. Managers are key to the employee experience, but they need support on such a new and nuanced expectation. And this support needs to be stratified for the different levels of managers.