All American adults are expected to be eligible for the cornavirus vaccine by April 19. This means there could be an end to the remote work setup sooner than it was thought and a return to offices.
It is going to be challenging, different and let’s face it, pretty darn weird to be back in offices. But do you have to get a vaccine if your employer requires it? And do you want to be in an office with unvaccinated people? This is what you need to know.
A return to offices comes closer
Mass vaccination efforts under the Biden administration has picked up steam in recent weeks; the original goal — to have all adult eligible for the vaccine on May 1 — has been bumped up. President Joe Biden is expected to make an announcement to have all American adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine by April 19, nearly two weeks sooner than the initial plan under the administration, CNN reported.
Some states have already announced plans to expand eligibility beyond adults, but the reality of making all adults eligible for a vaccine puts returning to the physical workplace back into focus.
It’s been over a year since many have been able to commute to their job and work inside an office, or even seen their colleagues physically in person and not over Zoom.
Returning is going to be awkward, like the first day of school after summer break, but it’s inevitably going to happen whether there’s hesitance from employees that just want to continue working remotely forever, or that are worried about working in the open during a pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage employers to space out workers where possible, by adjusting seating, furniture, and workstations. Creating arrows to facilitate traffic inside the office or in buildings can help keep things orderly, while improved ventilation is also highly recommended.
Temperature checks and other things can happen too, but the real question on just about every employees mind is: how can you work in an office with vaccinated people and unvaccinated people? Can workers be forced into taking the vaccine?
A recent poll by Qualtrics found that two-third of workers (66%) said they wanted vaccine shots to become mandatory before employers welcome back staff into the physical office. That said, not everyone is going to want to get vaccinated — which can pose a problem in calming the nerves of workers that only want to return to work if everyone is vaccinated.
Research from Willis Towers Watson found that fewer employers felt that vaccines should be mandatory before employees return to work. Of the 446 employers interviewed in the study between late February and mid-March, around 10% said workers should be required to get the jab as a condition of employment.
Obviously, employees and employers are on opposite sides of there being a required vaccination to return to the office, but it’s ultimately in the employers hands to make sure everyone remains safe at the physical office, whether they are vaccinated or not.
“Employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment, and many employees don’t want their employers to interfere in their health care decisions,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at Willis Towers Watson, told Ladders.
“These two aims will sometimes come into conflict. We found that very few employers were mandating vaccination at this point, but many are considering this in the future. Mandating vaccines might well prove contentious, although as more of the population is vaccinated and the vaccines are increasingly shown to be safe and highly effective, I believe the overwhelming majority of employees will choose to be vaccinated voluntarily.”
The survey also revealed that nearly one in four employers are planning or considering requiring employees to get vaccinated before returning to the worksite. However, it all really depends on where you work and the community, according to Levin-Scherz.
“Companies should welcome back employees, vaccinated or not, when the rate of community spread is low enough that it’s safe to return to the workplace. This will likely be at different times in different communities,” he said.
“Employers should be sure to allow for continued physical distancing, and require masks indoors whether or not employees are vaccinated. Some who are vaccinated could get less severe cases of COVID – although all the vaccines appear to provide excellent protection against severe infection or hospitalization. There is a theoretical risk that those who are vaccinated could get a mild case and spread it to others, but the risk appears to be very low. Universal masks, distancing, increased ventilation where possible, and handwashing all contribute to decreased transmission of any respiratory illness, including COVID-19.”
Offices around the country have weighed offering incentives for getting the jab. From a company perspective, incentivizing the vaccine is a way to keep your workplace protected while encouraging safety.
One-third of workers said in a recent study that they would get the Covid-19 vaccine for as little as $100, but companies can get creative by offering additional vacation time or gift cards.
Regardless, it remains to be seen how offices will operate where both the vaccinated and non-vaccinated are working together again in the future.