Investor Alert

Nov. 6, 2021, 11:03 a.m. EDT

‘Too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic’: Business groups give their verdict on employee vaccine mandate

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By Elisabeth Buchwald

President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses that employ 100 or more employees is getting mixed reviews.

Some business advocacy groups see it as a necessary step in ensuring workers’ safety on the job, while others see it as overly burdensome, especially as some businesses are struggling to find workers in the run-up to the holiday season.

The mandate will take effect on Jan. 4, when some 84 million employees whom the rule applies to will either have to be fully vaccinated or submit weekly COVID-19 tests to their employer and wear face masks at work. It will be enforced through an emergency rule developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday.

Nearly 70% of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database .

Coronavirus Update: WHO warns Europe could see 500,000 more COVID-19 deaths by February amid uneven vaccine take-up, and U.S. starts to give kids as young as 5 their shots

If an employee isn’t fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 and refuses to submit weekly tests, their employer must remove them from the workforce or face a nearly $14,000 maximum penalty per violation.

That’s “a necessary win for workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents some 60,000 members.

“Too many essential and frontline workers’ lives continue to be on the line in this pandemic, and having a standard to protect workers across the board is critical,” Appelbaum said in a statement Thursday. These workers “under the [Donald Trump] administration were left on the line unprotected,” he added.

Alfredo Ortiz, president and CEO of the Job Creators Network, a conservative small-business advocacy group, countered that forcing employers to lay off employees “will exacerbate the worst labor shortage in recorded history.”

Half of all small businesses can’t find workers to fill open jobs and say record shortages of labor and supplies are cutting into sales and profits, and hindering the recovery from the pandemic, according to a recent report by the National Federation of Independent Business.

A Harris Poll conducted early last month found that about half of those surveyed reported they’d be likelier to accept a position at a workplace with a vaccine mandate, while 29% said they would be less willing to work for such an employer. Among those likelier to accept a position under that condition, nearly three in every five said they believed a vaccine mandate would be necessary to end the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden said Thursday that “there have been no ‘mass firings’ and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements.”

Said Ortiz of the Job Creators Network: “The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is clearly illegal and will have a devastating impact on our small business community and our entire economy.”

“The mandate also adds a new expense for businesses in the form of the costs associated with employee vaccination-status tracking and required paid time off for employee vaccination,” said Ortiz, who announced that the Job Creators Network had filed a lawsuit to appeal the mandate on Thursday.

The timing of the mandate’s implementation in January, directly after the holiday season, is troublesome, said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, a trade group.

Even though many retailers have implemented their own vaccine mandates and increased health and safety measures during the pandemic, “the Biden administration has chosen to declare an ‘emergency’ and impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season,” French said.

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