President Joe Biden’s new requirement that companies with over 100 workers must have employees fully vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19 poses a good news-bad news scenario for the industry.
The mandate, revealed Thursday by the administration, is widely considered a big step forward in the nation’s battle to eradicate COVID-19 and thereby help the economy. The Centers for Disease Control’s approval of COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11, which happened Tuesday, is also a big step in reducing cases.
Certain major retailers quickly issued statements that they’re evaluating whether to comply with the federal mandate; some others indicated support of the administration’s new health policy, which seems to be outweighing their concerns that the extra work and costs required to abide by the federal mandate and its rules could impact business, headcount levels, and distract from activities surrounding the holiday season.
Unvaccinated workers will have to take time off to get vaccinated to meet the Jan. 4 deadline for being fully vaccinated required by the government, and companies will have extra administrative work involving checking that workers are either vaccinated or test negative each week.
Companies are required to not dock worker pay for the time off to get vaccinated or to recover from any side effects from being vaccinated. They are also required to ensure all unvaccinated workers wear a face mask in the workplace. The mandate covers 84 million employees.
Given that workers have the choice of being vaccinated or tested weekly means companies most likely won’t see much reduction in their workforce. But retailers are already grappling with labor shortages and struggling to fill jobs in stores, call centers and warehouses.
“Staffing in retail, and for hourly workers in general, is extremely tight heading into the holiday season,” said Nate Shenck, Boston Consulting Group’s head of retail in North America. “Retail attrition rates are up more than 25 percent compared to pre-pandemic times, and BCG research suggests more than half of former retail and food workers say they don’t want to rejoin the industry. So, while the vaccine mandate is likely to contribute to staffing tightness this holiday season because some retail employees will refuse to get vaccinated, it will likely only be a small contributor on top of an already big challenge.”
The National Retail Federation, in a statement issued Thursday, characterized the Biden’s administration new vaccine mandate as “burdensome.” However retailers quickly issued statements that they are evaluating whether they will comply with the new temporary emergency standard that was issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA.
“Over the past 19 months, retailers across the country have taken extraordinary measures to keep their employees, customers and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of these efforts, retailers have distributed, encouraged, incentivized and, in some instances, mandated the vaccine,” said David French, NRF’s senior vice president for government relations. “Since the president’s announcement of the vaccine mandate for private industry, the seven-day average number of cases in the United States has plummeted by more than half. Nevertheless, the Biden administration has chosen to declare an ‘emergency’ and impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season.”
French went on to say that, “As an industry that supports one in four American jobs, retailers have consistently requested that the administration take public comment on this new vaccine mandate. Last month, NRF met with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and stressed the importance of feasibility of implementation for employers. It is critical that the rule not cause unnecessary disruption to the economy, exacerbate the preexisting workforce shortage or saddle retailers, who are already taking considerable steps to keep their employees and customers safe, with needless additional requirements and regulatory burdens.”
At the Dallas-based Neiman Marcus Group, “We will and have continued to follow CDC guidelines and state and local mandates throughout the pandemic. We will comply with a federal mandate requiring proof of vaccination from our associates,” said Eric Severson, chief people and belonging officer. “In the interest of protecting our associates and customers and preventing the spread of COVID-19, we will continue to require all associates to wear masks in the workplace and permit those whose jobs do not require in-person presence to work remotely. The safety and welfare of our associates and customers is our top priority, and we’re committed to creating a welcoming environment where everyone feels like they belong.”
At Macy’s Inc., “We are always monitoring the situation around COVID-19 and evaluating and implementing government mandates and guidelines as they come out,” said a spokesman. “As I think you know, our colleagues are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. Earlier this fall, we began to require corporate colleagues to be vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test before entering our office locations before we determine how to roll out to additional Macy’s facilities. We are studying the most recent government mandate.”
According to a spokeswoman for Tapestry, Inc., which operates the Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman brands, “Starting Sept. 20 , everyone (including vendors and visitors) entering our New York and New Jersey corporate offices have had to be fully vaccinated. A small number of employees have medical or religious accommodations and we are implementing protocols for them. In keeping with the new OSHA requirements, we are now finalizing our plans and approaches for our retail store and fulfillment center teams so that we are able to comply with the mandates as they are enacted.”
A spokesperson for Ralph Lauren Corp. said, via email, “We will require anyone entering our corporate office locations in New York and New Jersey to be fully vaccinated and have completed the required waiting period or have a negative COVID-19 PCR test dated from within 72 hours prior to entering the office.”
According to a spokesman for Levi, Strauss & Co., “Our decision to return to the office with our new hybrid work model is an effort to balance the individual benefits of remote work with the collective accessibility and belonging of our physical workplaces and offices around the world. Effective, Oct. 25, U.S. employees are required to show proof of vaccination to enter any of our U.S. offices to attend U.S.-based company meetings and events and to travel on behalf of the company. We’re confident we have the right protocols and practice in place to provide a safe workplace for our employees, with policies that go above and beyond what is required in the interest of keeping employees healthy.”
The Biden administration has been aggressively encouraging Americans to get vaccinated and has worked to make the vaccines widely available and free. According to government statistics, 70 percent of adult Americans are now vaccinated — about 194 million — up from less than one percent when Biden took office.
About 740,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to government statistics. It’s the Biden administration’s position that more vaccinations are needed to save lives and protect the economy. “We need to drive vaccinations up and COVID-19 down,” Biden said during a press conference Friday, where he touted the latest U.S. employment statistics, showing a decline in the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent, and over half a million job gains during October which was more than expected.
The new mandate is a progression of the administration’s policies, which as of last July, required vaccinations for federal employees and contractors.
This week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services required that health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid are fully vaccinated. The rule applies to about 76,000 health care facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Being fully vaccinated means getting two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The government stated that its new rules pre-empt any inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing.