The primary mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is to ensure workplace safety. When the COVID vaccines became available, they were embraced and millions of Americans got them. However, once the growth in those vaccinated slowed, the Biden administration sought ways to incentivize people to get the vaccines. Once the effect of the incentives diminished, the administration focused on “coercing” people into getting vaccines by using OSHA to require employers with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccines for all their employees. A number of employers and other organizations sued the administration, saying that the vaccine mandate was beyond the powers granted to OSHA in the legislation setting up the organization. The Supreme Court sided with those employers, effectively saying OSHA does not have the power to create such a requirement.
This has created a number of challenges for organizations. Some saw this as an opportunity to require vaccines while blaming it on the government, while others sought to delay requiring vaccines until the court would rule. However, even the latter group faced a challenge because becoming “fully vaccinated” using the two more popular vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, required two shots given a month apart. Thus, while opposing the mandates, they had to begin communicating to employees that they might be fired if they did not receive the both doses of the vaccine, creating anxiety and a lack of engagement among many workers.
Then, once the OSHA mandate was eliminated, companies had to decide for themselves what to do. Some, like Disney and Tyson Foods went ahead and required vaccines for all employees. Others, such as Meta Platforms and J.P. Morgan Chase, required vaccines for employees returning to the office. Finally, others such as General Electric and Union Pacific suspended their vaccine requirements.
In a survey of 1,000 members, the Society of Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society, found that 75% of the respondents said they would not put vaccine or testing requirements in place if the mandate was struck down.
Questions for Students
1. If you had been the CHRO of a large company when you knew the mandate was scheduled to take effect on a certain date, but there was a chance the mandate would not be upheld, how would you communicate with your employees?
2. Now that the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate has been struck down by the Supreme Court, what do you think employers should do? Why?
Note to Instructors
Students may have strong feelings one way or another about the vaccine mandate. However, you should emphasize that they should put these feelings aside and answer the questions by taking the role of a CHRO who must respond to an upcoming regulatory or legal requirement. CHROs who communicated the mandate before the required data received vitriolic hate emails from employees who had worked at the company for years but were about to be fired because they refused to get the vaccine. This illustrates the precarious position HR sometimes finds itself in.
Source: Cutter, C. (Jan. 13, 2022) With Biden Mandate Blocked, Many Companies Won’t Impose Vaccine Rules. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/vaccine-ruling-settles-divisive-issue-for-u-s-companies-11642111617