Of course, employers have every right to try to increase vaccines rates in their businesses. They have a duty to provide workers — and customers — a safe environment. Employers have broad leeway to set health and safety conditions in the workplace. In ordinary times, they can require vaccination as a condition of employment — with some exceptions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make accommodations for unvaccinated workers who have medical conditions that make getting vaccinated highly risky, unless doing so is a significant burden.
Similarly, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must offer accommodations to workers with sincere religious objections to vaccination — although employers may be exempt if the burden on them is more than minimal .
That said, a mandate is a very heavy-handed tool. It does nothing to resolve people’s concerns or hesitation about the vaccine. With any new drugs — especially those developed as fast as Covid vaccines — initial nervousness is understandable. It is also often temporary.
Polls in the United States suggest that as time goes by, and millions are vaccinated, hesitancy toward Covid-19 vaccines is decreasing.
Employers do have other tools. Education and incentives might be better responses to hesitancy than a mandate. Working to increase access — for example, by collaborating with health authorities to make the vaccine accessible for the workforce — is likely a more important first step than a mandate. Some workplaces have offered incentives, either in the form of direct cash payments or through paid leave for workers who vaccinate.
Employers can also use “soft” mandates — vaccinate or be required to wear extra personal protective equipment, for example — as an alternative. Reaching for coercion can negatively impact morale, and lead to pushback — people may resist being told what to do.
There are, however, exceptions. In some situation, high rates of vaccines among workers are imperative. In high-risk, closed institutions like nursing homes or prisons, high rates of vaccines are crucial. If other tools do not achieve that, mandates are likely appropriate. Similarly, small business owners at personal high risk would be completely justified if they required vaccines.
But most workplaces can likely achieve high enough rates with lesser tools — and should probably choose that option.