What to Consider Before Mandating Boosters in the Workplace

With Omicron and Delta variants thwarting return-to-the-office plans and shuttering some establishments because owners can’t staff them, you may be wondering if mandating boosters is a good idea. You’re not alone.

The Metropolitan Opera announced this week that starting January 17, 2022 it will require all eligible employees and audience member to get booster shots to attend an event. Last week the NFL announced a similar mandate for coaches and staff, which goes into effect December 27, 2021. Several universities including Georgetown University and New York University recently also announced plans to require staff and students get boosters.

The reaction is hardly knee-jerk. With the rise of the Omicron variant, the United States is reporting an average of more than 120,000 new cases of Covid-19 each day, up 40 percent from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database

While employees have been met by long lines at Covid testing centers, President Biden assures that reinforcements are on the way. On December 2, Biden announced a plan to get nearly 100 million eligible Americans booster shots as soon as possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every adult who received an mRNA vaccine at least six months ago and those receiving a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago is eligible for a booster.

Given the research regarding the vaccine’s waning protection, it doesn’t hurt to encourage employees to get a booster if they want one. However, you don’t have to mandate it. To comply with either Biden’s federal vaccine mandate (which is currently held up in the courts) or state vaccine mandates, such as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandate in New York City, employees don’t need to get a booster as long as they meet the CDC’s requirement for being fully vaccinated. That is, a person is considered fully vaccinated if they have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Whether you mandate boosters also depends on the industry. Certain industries where workers face a higher risk of exposure and transmission, such as those in the medical field, first responders, education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections, public transit, and grocery stores, should pay particular attention to the public health guidance surrounding boosters. Additionally, if your workforce vaccination rate is low and many employees remain unvaccinated, it may be wiser to focus on raising the rate of initial vaccination rather than adding the booster.

If you do mandate boosters, it must be a company-wide policy so you don’t inadvertently discriminate against any employee classes. Further, you’ll need to collect vaccine information from workers and store that information in a safe location. Any employee proof of vaccination collected by a business is considered confidential medical information and must be treated as such. 

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