Morgan Stanley sparked a nationwide debate this week when it announced that, from July 12 onwards, unvaccinated employees (and clients) would no longer be allowed, under an honor system, in the bank’s New York City office.
The financial services industry is eager to get its employees back in the office. As Matt Egan writes in CNN, “banking is a face-to-face business—and no one on hyper-competitive Wall Street wants to lose a deal because of a slow WiFi connection.” But it’s not the only industry facing the ethical and practical problem of what to do about returning employees who don’t want to—or can’t—get vaccinated. As businesses grapple with this dilemma, they face social and political headwinds.
Can employers legally require vaccines?
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), federal nondiscrimination laws such as the American with Disabilities Act “do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for Covid-19″—with some important caveats.
First, employers have to apply the same standard to everyone, meaning they can’t impose a vaccine requirement that “has a disparate impact on—or disproportionately excludes—employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” In the US, white Americans are much more likely to be vaccinated than Black and Hispanic Americans, so in making a return to the office conditional on vaccination status, employers may end up disproportionately excluding employees of color.
Second, employers have to accommodate staff “who, because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, do not get vaccinated for Covid-19, unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.” Those reasonable accommodations can, according to the EEOC, include allowing unvaccinated employees to work remotely, or to work from the office as long as they wear a mask and get tested regularly.
Federal law is one thing; state law another. A bill recently passed in Texas, for example, bans employers from requiring that customers prove their vaccination status. If businesses don’t comply, they may become ineligible for grants from the state.
Which companies require Covid-19 vaccines?
Below is a list of some major US employers who have publicly said they will require employees to be vaccinated, ban unvaccinated workers from their offices, require information about employees’ vaccination status, and/or simply ask employees about their vaccination status.
Vaccine mandates get political
Only 45% of people in the US are fully vaccinated. As more employers consider a return to the office, the question of what to do about unvaccinated employees is only going to become more controversial.
Across the US, resistance is building against the concept of vaccine mandates in the workplace, egged on by influential anti-vaccine groups. In Texas, a judge recently upheld a major hospital in Houston‘s decision to require that its employees be vaccinated against Covid-19. (It’s not clear how the new Texas law affects that decision.) The result? More than 150 employees reportedly resigned or were fired.