How fast is HR revising safety measures as Delta cases rise?

New data on mask and vaccine mandates reveal a stark difference from previous months.
By: | August 13, 2021

With the highly contagious Delta variant spreading and wreaking havoc on return-to-work plans, employers are getting serious about vaccine and mask mandates for their employees.

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According to a new poll of 500 employers by behavioral and mental health provider ComPsych, 33% of employers are either mandating or considering mandating vaccinations of their employees, and 72% are mandating masks or considering reinstating their use in the office.

The new figures reveal a stark difference from previous months. Although experts say employers play a major role in boosting vaccination numbers, the majority of employers chose to encourage inoculation rather than require it.

For instance, June data from the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that just 10% of organizations said they would require vaccination of all employees. In January, 5% of organizations planned to require employees to be vaccinated and 9% said the same in April. Additionally, most offices had relaxed their mask guidance in offices, allowing workers to shed their masks after the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in May released guidance allowing vaccinated people to go maskless.

Related: Will new federal mask guidelines revive workplace mandates?

But the latest wave of COVID-19 cases has significantly raised the stakes, changing employers’ positions on safety precautions.

“We are still in a high-stakes situation,” says Dr. Richard Chaifetz, founder, chairman and CEO of ComPsych. “Many people have the same fear and uncertainty they did at the beginning of the pandemic.”

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Companies including Google, Facebook and United Airlines in the last few weeks have announced vaccine mandates for their employees. And many experts expect more employers will follow suit.

Related: These employers are requiring COVID-19 vaccines

“At this point, I think many employers will start to make it difficult for employees not to be vaccinated—either by mandates or by frequent testing requirements for the unvaccinated,” says Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.

He also says many employers now are implementing mask mandates in indoor public spaces for all employees.

Previous ComPsych data found that employee concerns over the Delta variant is growing: 50% of workers said they were worried about getting sick with the virus, and most don’t want to return to the office because of it. In addition to boosting health and safety efforts, it’s important that organizations overcommunicate with employees and help them in any way they can, Chaifetz says.

“The most important things employers can do right now are to be open about the uncertainty, overcommunicate and provide holistic support to address the multitude of issues employees are facing—whether that’s counseling, childcare, financial or legal.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.

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