Vaccine mandates complicate the jobs recovery

A growing number of companies are thinking about requiring employees to vax up for work.

Why it matters: COVID-19 vaccination rates are plateauing across the country while infections spike. Mandating that all employees be vaccinated will make some workers feel safer about returning to the office — but it risks alienating those who are opposed to getting the jab.

  • And with employers trying desperately to hang on to workers — and attract new ones — they may find themselves in a no-win situation.

Driving the news: This week, a number of states and municipalities, including California and New York, announced vaccine mandates for state employees. Those who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine will have to get tested regularly.

The big picture: In some states, like Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama, less than 40% of the population is fully vaccinated — far from what’s needed for local herd immunity.

In May, 72% of employers said they would not require employee vaccinations, in a survey of 660 U.S. companies by Willis Towers Watson.

But, but, but: Some of those employers have changed course as the Delta variant has spread and are reconsidering a mandate, Willis told the Wall Street Journal.

State of play: Unions representing health care workers, firefighters, teachers and police forces, among others, are pushing back on mandates.

  • They argue that mandating the shots would be unfairly risky, often citing the fact that the vaccines have not yet received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
  • The vaccines received emergency authorization earlier this year, and experts expect the FDA to grant them full approval in the next couple of months.

The impact: Employers are walking a tightrope.

  • While some are requiring all employees to be vaccinated, others are mandating only that new hires get the shots.

Vaccine mandates could also be a legal minefield.

  • The legality of mandates is complicated, given the range of local laws on the issue. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that federal law doesn’t bar employers from requiring vaccinations — but some states have taken matters into their own hands and moved to ban vaccine mandates.

In one example of the fallout, Houston Methodist Hospital in April required that workers get vaccinated — and a group of 117 employees sued the hospital system.

What to watch: When the FDA fully approves the vaccines, it’ll be a watershed moment for the legal debate.