Where Employers Stand on Vaccines, ‘New Normal’ Workplace, Remote Work, Travel
Although more than half (57%) of U.S. employers say they require or plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations of employees, much of that support depends on whether courts approve the Biden Administration’s emergency workplace safety rule requiring vaccinations or weekly testing, according to a survey by insurance broker Willis Towers Watson.
That 57% of employers includes 18% that currently require vaccinations, 32% that plan to require vaccinations only if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) takes effect, and 7% that plan to mandate vaccinations regardless of the ETS status.
The OSHA ETS, which is currently being reviewed in the courts, allows employers to offer weekly testing as an option to unvaccinated employees.
A total of 543 U.S. employers with 5.2 million workers participated in the Willis Towers Watson survey, which was conducted November 12 to 18, 2021.
Although nearly one in three (31%) of employers planning mandates are very concerned that this could contribute to employees leaving their organizations, only a few employers (3%) with vaccination mandates have reported a spike in resignations, On the other hand, nearly half of employers (48%) believe that vaccine mandates could help recruit and retain employees.
In addition to vaccine mandates, employers say they are planning to require testing and masks to protect employees who are returning to the workplace. Nearly all employers will offer testing (84%), most on a weekly basis (80%). One-quarter (25%) will require unvaccinated employees to pay for testing unless prohibited by state law. Nearly all employers (90%) require or plan to require masks to be worn indoors.
“Despite the current holding pattern pending the court rulings, we advise employers to proceed with plans to implement the mandate as well as other efforts to protect their workers,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader, Willis Towers Watson.
Levin-Scherz said employers can encourage vaccinations and boosters with scheduling flexibility, as well as promote regular testing and mask wearing onsite with regular communications.
The survey also found waning employer enthusiasm for financial incentives for COVID-19 vaccination. Just 2% report that they have either a health insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees or premium reduction for vaccinated employees in place. Three-quarters (75%) offer no financial incentives; one in nine (11%) offer some financial incentive, and 14% have discontinued or plan to discontinue financial incentives.
About three in 10 respondents (29%) say their organizations have already reached their “new normal” in terms of returning to the workplace and ending pandemic-related policies. Roughly the same amount (28%) say they don’t expect their organizations to reach the new normal until the third quarter of 2022 or later.
Additionally, respondents report that 34% of employees are now working remotely. This is expected to drop to 27% in the first quarter of 2022. Employers that have returned remote workers to the workplace report that public health recommendations (79%), state regulations and recommendations (74%), and business needs (71%) were considerations in their decisions.
“Employers continue to evaluate the best way to keep their workers, families and the community safe. With the risk of COVID-19 infection higher now than a month ago, some companies have delayed bringing employees back to the worksite,” said Levin-Scherz.
Other survey findings include:
- Business travel: Half of respondents (50%) have pandemic restrictions in place for business travel. Among those, nearly two-thirds (65%) prohibit international travel, while 53% require approval for international travel. Roughly one-quarter (27%) prohibit domestic business travel.
- Vaccination rates: Nearly one in five employers (19%) believe their employee vaccination rate is under 50%, and one-third (33%) believe 75% or more of employees are vaccinated.
- Federal contractors: The majority (53%) of federal contractors report they will apply vaccine mandate rules for federal contractors to all workers at all locations.
- COVID-19 testing: Employers continue to formulate their plans for testing. Among those that are offering or planning to offer testing, nearly half (47%) are either unsure or have not decided what type of testing to deploy, and 40% are either unsure or have not yet decided who would pay for testing.
- Exemptions: Over half of respondents requiring or planning to require vaccinations will evaluate requests for medical exemptions (51%) and religious exemptions (58%) internally.
“Much has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet vaccination, masking, distancing and better ventilation remain essential in protecting workers from the virus and its variants,” stated Levin-Scherz.
Source: Willis Towers Watson
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