As the Delta Variant spreads across the country, the topic of mandated vaccinations and face coverings continues to vex businesses of all shapes and sizes. This discussion comes as many school districts are resuming in-person classes, businesses are cautiously reopening, and COVID fatigue is rampant.
While this topic could lead to a political debate, this article will not. Nor will we attempt to tell you what you should, or should not, require of your team. As leaders of your financial institution, you are responsible for making decisions that impact both your employees and customers It is not a decision to make lightly or without deliberation.
Mask wearing has become commonplace, and once again is a requirement in many places. Parts of the country have issued their own mask and vaccination mandates. For example, Louisiana has a state-wide mask mandate for all indoor activities, and some locales have taken the additional step of requiring vaccination for certain activities as well. The City of New Orleans requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for anyone entering a restaurant, bar, gym, indoor event, and many other activities. This requirement means fans attending an NFL game at the Caesar’s Superdome are required to wear face masks and show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative PCR test. Although an outdoor venue, Louisiana State University is requiring the same for those planning to attend football games on its campus this fall. Other venues requiring proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests includeMadison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. As COVID numbers fluctuate, so do venue rules.Other locations will likely add or revise their mask and vaccination rules as you read this article.
It is not just those attending sporting events or dining out who are facing these new requirements. Many large companies including Morgan Stanley, Northwestern Mutual, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, United Airlines, and Deloitte have instituted some form of vaccine mandate for their offices. Others, including Jefferies Financial Group, Centene, and Microsoft have extended that mandate to include clients and guests. Most companies have some exemptions for those who cannot vaccinate.
Goldman Sachs currently has a varied approach for its branches. There is a mask mandate in effect for all common areas like elevators, halls, lobbies, and restrooms. However, locations in San Francisco and Washington also require mask wearing for employees while they are seated at their desks, following guidance from local health officials.
While there have been some bumps in this road, we’ve also seen some organizations manage these dynamic challenges well.
A large multi-national client of ours has operations in multiple locations, serves many different clients and its team members interactdirectly with customers. Rather than instituting an across-the-board mask and vaccination requirement, they elected to work with their clients to follow local laws and regulations, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.This client has a strict and non-negotiable set of guiding principles, and the safety of its team members and customers is always paramount, whether they are working at the main headquarters or remotely.
Mandatory vaccination requirements were a focusof a newly released poll conducted before the FDA officially approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, 59% of people currently working remotely say that are in favor of having vaccine requirements in their workplace once they return to in-person work environments. Those currently working in-person were slightly less in favor of the requirement, with just 47% responding that vaccines should be mandated in their workplace. About one-quarter of workers — in-person workers and those working remotely — are opposed to any type of requirement.
Interestingly, companies most likely to have a vaccination requirement are private companies with a workforce that can work from home. On the other side of the issue, companies that have predominatelyhourly workers are less likely to mandate the vaccination for their employees. The reason? Many of those businesses polled say they don’t want to risk losingtheir current employees orprohibiting others from joining their teams because of vaccine requirements.
A quick look around any community and you’ll see “help wanted” signs aplenty. Businesses say they can’t get enough employees to operate their businesses now and adding a vaccination requirement may create additional hurdlesfor their ability to hire enough people to operate.
Opinions about required masks or vaccinations aside, the poll showed people remain afraid of getting sick. The number of people who say they are concerned about contracting COVID-19 (as of August 2021) is the highest so far this year. The poll indicated 41% of Americans saying they are extremely or very worried that they or a family member would become infected with COVID. That number is up 20% from June, which was the month with the lowest level of concern since the pandemic was first identified.
When it comes to mask mandates, some states and cities have instituted their own, mostly requiring masks for indoor gatherings and loosening the requirements for outdoor activities. When it comes to wearing a mask at work, half of the Americans currently working in person said they were in favor of workplace mask mandates. Those working remotely were more favorable toward the requirement, with 59% saying they think it is a good idea.
Requiring someone to wear a mask or get a vaccine can be a controversial move. Those institutions operating in areas where the local or state governments have issued mandates can simply follow those guidelines. One credit union we work with reminds members to mask up when doing business inside a branch. If the member doesn’t want to wear a mask, they are accommodated remotely through drive-ups, telephone banking, or online. All team members are required to follow the local mandates by wearing masks while indoors.
The decision to require vaccinations (or not) is varied across all industries. While food service workers were relatively quick to adopt maskwearing, some parts of the food industry are taking the next step and requiring vaccines as well. Union Square Hospitality Group, a restaurant operator in Washington, D.C. and New York City, has issued such a mandate. After Labor Day, they beganrequiring all their staff members and guests who want to eat indoors to have proof of vaccination. The company’s president said he is requiring, and expecting, 100% compliance. Tyson Foods is requiring its U.S. workforce to be fully vaccinated by November 1. They are also offering a cash incentive to frontline workers who get the shot.
Offering a financial bonus to those who are vaccinated is certainly another potentially controversial matter that must be handled by your organization leadership. You may not wish to pursue that path. Some businesses find it encourages workers to vaccinate even if not required.
Some are finding a lack of vaccinated employees could cost them financially in the long run. It’s no secret that professional athletes make a lot of money. NFL players who refuse to vaccinate are subject to very strict protocols. Coaches say they considered vaccination status when deciding which players were cut from team rosters.
Football isn’t the only sport with vaccination rules. The NBA requires anyone who interacts with players to have the shot, including coaches, trainers, and referees. The players themselves are not required to have the vaccine, but the people who shell out the big bucks to sit courtside will have to prove they have.
This isn’t a topic that will be solved uniformly in any business, large or small. Obviously, the NFL and NBA think requiring vaccinations will keep their brands operating and profitable.
Would it work the same for your financial institution?
There’s no easy answer. We have counseled our clients to follow their guiding principles before making a vaccination decision. We would counsel you the same. Your business can lean into local guidelines and mandates and notissue its own requirements. If you elect to take the step in requiring your team members to vaccinate, clearly communicate why the decision was made. Shot or no shot, mask or no mask, these are difficult and unusual times for everyone. Leading with clear direction and open lines of communication has never been more important.
John Deveney, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, IABC Fellow recognized internationally for crisis and issue management across a variety of industries.
In 2006, John was honored as “Agency Executive of the Year” by PRNews after he served as the first responder managing media during hurricanes Katrina and Rita — from the evacuation of the city to a military blockade and the aftermath — for both the tourism industry for New Orleans and the Louisiana Office of Tourism. He led the only on-site communication operation and media center that managed more than $400 million in media scrutiny in war-like conditions.
In 2010, John and his team created the strategy and led the team that managed the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s response to the BP oil spill. That effort reshaped public perception and preserved Louisiana’s $9.4 billion tourism industry.
DEVENEY has been named PR News’ Firm of the Year and PRWeek’s Top 5 Boutique PR Firms in the country. John is in the PRNews’ Hall of Fame and is the only professional to ever merit the lifetime achievement recognition of being inducted into both the PRSA College of Fellows and IABC Fellows. To learn more visit us at www.deveney.com.