Vaccine Mandates Are in Limbo While Employers Wait Out Biden Rules

Almost a third of companies say they will only impose a vaccine requirement for employees if President Joe Biden’s shot-or-test rules are upheld by U.S. courts, indicating that corporate mandates won’t be widespread without federal regulation.

A Willis Towers Watson survey released Tuesday found that 32% of employers plan to add vaccine rules only if the standards issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration take effect. About 18% of respondents already have a mandate and 7% plan to impose them regardless of the federal guidelines.

Most companies will offer weekly testing for all workers and a quarter will require unvaccinated staff to pay for their own tests, according to the survey of 543 U.S. employers, which collectively employ 5.2 million people.

Workplace policies are taking on added urgency as the U.S. contends with a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases and worries about the new omicron variant. The OSHA standards, which call for businesses with 100 or more workers to require vaccines or test employees weekly, had been set to take effect Jan. 4. They have been blocked by a U.S. court pending additional legal review.

“Employers would feel more comfortable putting mandates in place if their competitors were as well,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, managing director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “There are many companies that would clearly put a mandate in place, and would probably put a mandate in place even without the testing option, if they felt the protection of the OSHA emergency temporary standard.”

Some organizations have been reluctant to adopt mandates out of concern they will cause workers to quit in an already-tight labor market. But just 3% of companies with the requirement have seen a spike in resignations, the survey found. Almost half of employers said they believe requiring the shot may help recruit and retain workers.

Support is waning for other vaccination incentives. Only 2% of survey respondents report having an insurance surcharge for unvaccinated workers or a premium reduction for those who get the shot. Three-quarters of employers polled don’t offer financial incentives to get the vaccine, while 14% have ended or will end such perks.