Contractors throughout North America are increasingly being encouraged to man jobs with only vaccinated workers. For example, general contractors and owners are seeking to limit any disruption from a COVID-19 outbreak by increasingly mandating that all workers on their jobsites be “fully vaccinated.”

In addition, President Biden recently announced that OSHA will publish a rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to mandate that employees be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. President Biden also announced mandatory vaccination requirements for federal contractors (and subcontractors) and healthcare organizations that accept Medicare and Medicaid (i.e., hospitals, nursing homes, etc.). The result of these executive actions will be that more jobs will require workers to be vaccinated.

No Quick Fix

There is no “quick fix” for increasing the number of vaccinated workers and attempts to force workers to be vaccinated can present legal risks. For example, contractors cannot legally mandate that all workers be vaccinated, unless they make appropriate exemptions for individuals with medical conditions and sincerely-held religious beliefs that prevent them from getting the vaccine.

In addition, because someone’s vaccinated status is likely considered “confidential medical information,” a contractor also cannot publish a list of unvaccinated employees in order to “shame” unvaccinated workers into getting the shot.

Some Workers Resisting Vaccine

As many contractors have discovered, notwithstanding the increase in demand, some workers are not racing to get vaccinated. While some contractors have considered mandating COVID-19 vaccination (with appropriate medical and religious accommodations), statistics show that many workers are strongly opposed to employer-imposed vaccine mandates.

A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of the public thought that the government “should not” require employers to implement vaccine mandates. The political lines were stark: 67 percent of Republicans opposed the mandates, compared with 51 percent of independents and 24 percent of Democrats.

The result is that contractors are caught in the middle: they need to find vaccinated workers to do the work, but they don’t want good employees to quit over an employer-imposed vaccine mandate. Rather than focusing on a “quick fix” (e.g., mandating that all employees receive the vaccine as a condition of employment), some contractors have decided to motivate their employees get vaccinated in an effort to reduce the amount of vaccine-related resignations.

Motivating Employees to Get Vaccinated

As mentioned above, some contractors are utilizing the following strategies to increase the number of their employees voluntarily getting the vaccine:

Engage Vaccine Ambassadors and Experts 

While educational literature from the CDC and WHO is helpful in some settings, distributing such materials may not be particularly helpful in engaging workers to be vaccinated.

Instead, research suggests that employees are more likely to be persuaded by people that they know and trust. This could include well-respected members of management, the local union, or even colleagues. These individuals could speak about their experiences with the vaccine and how it has helped them protect their health, their families’ health, and the health of their communities.

In addition, having a local doctor come and speak with your workforce about the benefits of the vaccine at a pot luck or during a paid meeting may be helpful to persuade workers to be vaccinated and debunk any vaccine-related misinformation.

Financial Incentives

Some employers give employees paid time off (or vacation) as an extra incentive to get vaccinated. While contractors may not have that option for union employees, contractors have the ability to give employees financial incentives to get vaccinated.

For example, some employers have paid employees cash to get vaccinated. For example, Albertsons and Kroger paid employees $200 for getting vaccinated. The largest incentive, $500, was paid by health system Houston Methodist. The EEOC recently concluded that these incentives are not governed by the agency’s wellness program rules (provided the contractor or its agent isn’t administering the shots), so employers have a lot of flexibility in implementing voluntary vaccination programs.

While money may not be enough for some workers, the chance to win a trip (such as a fishing trip to Canada, where vaccination is required as a condition of entering the country), may be enough to get some workers to get vaccinated.

Appeal to the Union

For unionized employees, the signatory contractors can engage their union as a partner in the vaccination effort. A messaging example could be, “Many union jobs come with vaccine mandates. In order to protect our market share, we need vaccinated union workers to do the work.”

In addition, union health funds may be a good source of information regarding the cost – both financial and personal – of not being vaccinated.

Lead by Example 

Contractors looking to persuade their workers to be vaccinated should consider leading by example and ensuring that they and their management team are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Bottom Line

As outlined above, contractors are not in an enviable position. They are facing vaccine mandates from the federal government and more demands for vaccinated workers. Rather than looking for a quick solution, some contractors are “rolling up their sleeves” (pun intended) and engaging with their workers to help persuade workers to get the shot.