Without federal mandate, large employers in Minnesota heed vaccine requirements for workers

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Thousands of Minnesota businesses must now decide: Without a federal vaccine mandate, should they do it themselves?

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a federal government effort to force midsize and large U.S. employers to implement vaccine or testing requirements for their workers. While the ruling lifts regulatory pressure on employers that many found burdensome, it also leaves companies eager to impose a scapegoat-free mandate.

The ruling removed “coverage that large companies should impose a vaccine requirement,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of executive recruiting and coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Employers with opposing sides in their workforce regarding vaccination will now have to choose their fight.

While many workers were uncomfortable with their employers forcing them to get vaccinated, others — citing a virus that has killed more than 800,000 Americans in less than two years — are uneasy. comfortable returning to work if they do not know the status of nearby colleagues. them.

“A much higher percentage of the workforce are concerned about safety than oppose vaccines. They just don’t tend to be a very vocal bunch, but there’s a lot of anxiety that people feel about their safety and their family,” said Dr. Mary Kay O’Neill, partner in the practice of health benefits at Mercer.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirement, which the majority of justices voted to block, applied to companies with 100 or more employees. State officials estimate that would have included about 4,500 businesses that collectively employ 1.4 million Minnesotans.

Even with the court ruling, employers remain responsible for providing a safe workplace, O’Neill said. They want to address worker safety concerns, she said, and need a healthy workforce that won’t suffer from continued staff shortages.

Employers are now divided into three camps: those who will voluntarily adopt a vaccination mandate; those without a work-from-home option (such as manufacturing, retail, transportation, and logistics) who will continue to encourage, but not require, vaccination; and those that will delay plans to return to the office.

Some Minnesota companies have yet to choose a clear path as they weigh the conflicting beliefs of workers.

John Phipps, who works in the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office, expressed mixed feelings about the government’s vaccine mandate efforts during his Friday lunch break at a downtown Minneapolis food court.

“I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable in office without the warrant,” said Phipps, who calls himself “conservative” but doesn’t identify with any of the political parties. “But I don’t believe in forced vaccinations either. It’s hard to reconcile. … I feel more secure knowing that my colleagues are vaccinated.”

Phipps, who is vaccinated and recently made an appointment for a booster shot, said: “I believe people have non-political reasons not to get vaccinated – fear being the main one. Also misinformation.

Several companies, like Bayport-based Andersen Windows and Doors, are straddling the line with creative approaches.

Andersen’s current 6,000 employees in Minnesota don’t need to be vaccinated, but all new hires do. And to qualify for its new 2022 profit-sharing plan, which promises workers up to $4,000 a year, employees must be vaccinated.

“[Profit sharing] has been redesigned to reinforce the company’s commitment to protecting the health of its employees and contributing to the global effort to fight the virus,” said Andersen spokeswoman Aliki Vrohidis.

The effort should reduce business disruption from the virus and help attract new talent, she said.

Other companies have chosen a more direct approach.

Minneapolis-based Graco with 1,500 Minnesota employees said it was reversing plans to require weekly vaccines or testing and would end all data collection on employee vaccination statuses.

In contrast, Plymouth confectioner Maud Borup, with 200 employees in Plymouth and The Center, will continue with its vaccine or weekly testing mandates.

“With the Supreme Court’s new ruling, nothing has changed and we don’t know if anything will change,” spokeswoman Karen Edwards said.

Right now, “people are either vaccinated or they do the weekly tests. If you have a medical condition or a religious exemption, you still need to provide us with your negative test results every week in order to be able to work here. “, said Edwards.

Emily Dickens, chief of staff at the Society for Human Resource Management, which has 400 employees, said the Supreme Court’s ruling should not dismantle companies’ plans that already require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Employers who have been able to institute mandates have a certain culture and a supportive employee base,” she said.

Eduardo Salgado Diaz, an attorney who joined the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office in August, said he was grateful to his employer — the county — for instituting a vaccine requirement in December. Salgado Diaz, 31, said he tries to minimize contact by entering the office most days around 6 a.m. and leaving in the early afternoon.

Claudia Dunn, a legal assistant at the Moss & Barnett law firm in downtown Minneapolis, said she wishes the Supreme Court ruling had gone the other way to give employers political cover to put in place implements a rule that would be unpopular with many people.

“It’s something you can hide behind,” Dunn, 22, said. “So you can say you had no choice.”

Still others, like Kamali Chambers, resist employment-based mandates.

“You should have a choice. If you’re told to get vaccinated or lose your job, that’s coercion,” said Chambers, a Northwestern Mutual financial representative who has not yet been vaccinated. His company did not require vaccinations and he is comfortable with that.

Jobs experts say companies could risk losing workers no matter which direction they go.

“Job seekers, who have the upper hand in a tight job market with record numbers of job openings, will use company vaccination policies to make decisions about which jobs to take,” Challenger said.

It’s a particularly difficult time to set vaccination policies, said Jack Sullivan, Minneapolis employment counselor and litigator at Dorsey & Whitney.

“People who would otherwise be thinking about this policy right now are being overwhelmed with no-shows and calls and just the number of sick people right now,” he said. “People are just trying to weather this current storm.”

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