Companies are stepping up the pressure on workers to get vaccinated—not necessarily with mandates but with strong nudges.
For months, many employers have attempted to coax workers into receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. Companies dangled cash, time off and other prizes to encourage vaccinations. Executives made personal appeals in town-hall meetings and internal memos.
Now, some of those efforts are taking a more assertive and urgent tone. While most employers haven’t flat-out ordered staff to get vaccinated, many are asking workers to report their vaccination status or are implementing policies that restrict the activities of unvaccinated workers.
Unlike the first wave of corporate efforts—which focused more on getting front-line workers and essential staffers at retailers, hospitals and airlines vaccinated—the latest push affects more professionals at banks, law firms and similar businesses. Some companies say they want reassurance that the majority of their workers are vaccinated before broadly reopening offices.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -1.36% last week ordered its U.S. employees to disclose in an internal portal whether they had received the vaccine. The Wall Street firm, which hasn’t mandated vaccines, has told staff that fully vaccinated employees who have registered their status can work without masks in its offices. Others will still have to wear masks at all times except at their desks. Other banks, including Morgan Stanley MS -1.44% and Wells Fargo WFC -1.16% & Co., have asked employees to voluntarily register their vaccination status.
Whether employees are vaccinated could determine when they regain access to corporate offices and campuses at many companies. The technology giant Salesforce.com Inc. CRM 2.48% is initially inviting fully vaccinated workers who have disclosed their status to come back to offices in places such as San Francisco and New York, in groups of about 100 people at a time. Salesforce has eschewed a vaccine mandate, though executives have spent recent months encouraging people to get them. "We’re not being shy about it," said Brent Hyder, Salesforce’s chief people officer.
Companies are getting cover to ratchet up the pressure from new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which recently said U.S. employers can require all workers entering a workplace to be vaccinated against Covid-19, though they need to provide reasonable accommodations for those who are unvaccinated because of a disability or religious belief, the EEOC said.
Even so, some employers have met resistance. The Houston Methodist hospital network recently suspended 178 employees who didn’t meet the hospital system’s early June deadline to be fully vaccinated, according to an internal email shared with staffers. Those employees could face termination if they don’t comply, hospital officials have said.
A group of more than 100 Houston Methodist employees recently filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate. Their complaint argued that the hospital network "is forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment." A federal judge on Saturday dismissed the suit.
Hospital leaders, who say about 25,000 of the network’s roughly 26,000 employees are now vaccinated, have held fast on the mandate despite the backlash. "As the first hospital system to mandate Covid-19 vaccines we were prepared for this," Dr. Marc L. Boom, the network’s chief executive, said in his email to staff last week. "The criticism is sometimes the price we pay for leading medicine."
Companies are generally within their legal rights to ask employees if they have been vaccinated, employment lawyers say, and employers are using a range of tools to do so. Payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. ADP -0.24% plans to soon offer a feature in a digital, return-to-office dashboard that will allow workers to upload images of their vaccination cards—if employers request them—and to note whether they have been fully or partially vaccinated, or not at all.
"What employers are looking for is how do I delineate: How do I know who’s in what bucket?" said David Palmieri, a division vice president at ADP.
A number of companies are relying on the honor system. At Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., vaccinated employees have started to return to the company’s Springfield, Mass., headquarters to attend in-person meetings on a case-by-case basis and can remove their masks, CEO Roger Crandall said. The company plans to open some offices on a voluntary basis for fully vaccinated staff later this month. A broader-scale return is planned for the fall.
Executives debated asking people to upload proof of vaccinations, Mr. Crandall said, but decided against it, feeling that employees could be trusted to operate within health guidelines and company policies. "We treat people like grown ups," he said.
Minneapolis law firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen in March mandated that its 100-person staff get vaccinated, barring an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Employees weren’t asked to provide proof but to notify the firm’s human resources director when they were fully vaccinated to help determine when it could reopen its offices or schedule more in-person gatherings, said Susan E. Ellingstad, a partner at the firm. Ms. Ellingstad said there was no resistance, and all employees have complied.
"We’re never going to get past this until we have enough people vaccinated," Ms. Ellingstad said. "Employers have a role to play in this."