WASHINGTON, D.C. — The push to get more Americans vaccinated is taking on added urgency, with the burden now falling on employers.
“We're obviously going to have to comply. And so, it's going to change the landscape of what we've done so far,” said Amy Zimmerman, the chief people officer for Relay Payments, a small, Georgia-based company that helps businesses handle electronic payments.
Fewer than 100 employees work there, just below the requirement for the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate. That’s about to change, though, because they’re getting ready to hire more people.
“The biggest challenge ahead for us is to navigate how to comply with the mandate, allow the folks unvaccinated to continue working and, or encourage them to get vaccinated,” Zimmerman said. “So, we're going to have our work cut out for us, for sure.”
Only 56% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. That’s much lower than other high-income countries, like Germany (65%), France (67%), Spain (75%), the U.K. (68%) and Canada (73%), as well as Portugal, where 85% of the population is now fully vaccinated.
The vaccine mandate calls for regular, weekly COVID-19 testing for employees who choose not to be vaccinated.
“Mandates do work,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director. “And sometimes people just need a little bit of a push to do something for their own benefit for that of your family but also for the benefit of society."
Zimmerman said for small businesses, it’s not just about complying with the mandate, but also keeping their employees and customers safe.
“There's actually quite a few new tech app type solutions to make it easy and efficient for companies to gather that data," she said. “We've got to have documentation that you're vaccinated, in part because it's our obligation that we feel comfortable that we're keeping our community safe.”
For those employees who are not, Zimmerman said it may require small businesses to consider more than just the weekly required testing and look at their entire employee structure.
“How do you support people, maybe the people who don't want to be vaccinated, while keeping the community safe for the people who do want to be vaccinated?” she said. “And so, we challenged ourselves to think about, ‘Do we need people back in the office? If we do, do we need everybody back in the office?’”
That means remote work may continue to be part of business operations, beyond the foreseeable future, depending on how far some businesses are willing to go to keep unvaccinated employees employed.