Employers spent the spring encouraging their employees to get vaccinated. Some dedicated staff to setting appointments. Other hosted on-site vaccination events. Incentives of all kinds were offered, including cash payments. Most offered paid time off to get the shot and recover from any side effects, a practice the federal government supported with tax credits. But as the pace of vaccination slows, employers are considering ditching the carrots and getting out the sticks.
The trades are among the laggards in workers getting vaccinated. According to a recent survey by the Delphi Research Group, 42% of people whose jobs included equipment installation and maintenance were hesitant to get vaccinated.
HVAC contractors have many reasons to want their employees vaccinated. One main reason is competitiveness. Some residential customers remain concerned about possible exposure from someone entering their home. Commercial HVAC contractors face a bigger risk of losing business if clients start requiring everyone working on a project to show proof of vaccination, similar to drug testing requirements included in some contracts.
HVAC contractors face extra issues when it comes to vaccinations because of the field’s constant labor shortage. They don’t want to lose employees because they are out sick or quarantined. At the same time, they don’t want to give employees a reason to either leave or not join a company. So they continue to encourage, not mandate, vaccinations.
“Our employees recognize the personal and communal benefits of the vaccine, and they’ve opted in to such an extent that we haven’t needed to require it,” said Linda Couch, CEO of Parrish Services Inc. in Manassas, Virginia.
EEOC, Courts Support Vaccine Mandates
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently clarified its guidance that employers can mandate vaccinations if they so choose. Other industries are already taking that approach. Major airlines now require proof of vaccination for all job applicants. Houston Methodist, a large hospital in Texas, recently won a court case filed by employees who resisted its vaccine mandate. The hospital already suspended almost 200 workers who refused the shot.
There had been some question as to whether entities could mandate a vaccination because none of the vaccines are officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration. All have received emergency use authorization (EUA), which is a sped-up version of the usual approval process. There is some language in the EUA statute that some lawyers say prohibits mandatory vaccination. So far, the language from the EEOC and the courts shows little support for this argument.
The law is much clearer when it comes to a traditionally approved vaccine. Entities have been able to mandate them with only a few exceptions. Both Pfizer and Moderna, two of the largest vaccine producers, have formally submitted for full approval from the FDA. There’s evidence from flu vaccinations that mandating works better than encouraging, said attorney Kevin Troutman in an interview with The ACHR NEWS last fall.
“The question becomes, should this be required or should this be strongly encouraged?” Troutman said. “What I’ve seen in reading different articles looks to me that when an employee requires a flu shot, you get more than 80% (vaccination), even 90%. If it’s strongly encouraged, that number drops to 50% or below.
“So there’s an objective reason for employers to perhaps require a flu shot.”
Meanwhile, the HVAC industry continues to do its part in the push for increased vaccination rates. Carrier hosted the first of two mass vaccination clinics at its headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on June 3. The event was run by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and was open to the public. Carrier is scheduled to host another such event on June 25.