How many workers have quit to avoid vaccine mandates?

Just 5% of unvaccinated workers–and 1% of all workers overall–said they left a job because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from their employer, more evidence that a feared exodus of workers due to mandates isn’t as severe as some predicted.

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The statistic comes from a new survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that one-quarter of workers surveyed in October said their employer has required them to get vaccinated, up from 9% in June and 19% last month. While about a quarter of all adults say they know someone who has left a job because of a vaccine requirement, just 5% of unvaccinated workers (1% of all adults) say they have personally done so. The nonpartisan organization surveyed 1,519 adults Oct. 14-24.

Related: Is your talent really walking out the door to avoid a COVID vaccine?

The results come as more employers are requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID. President Joe Biden in September announced his plan to require private employers with 100 or more employees to mandate their workers get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID testing. The rule–which is expected to be issued soon by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration–is spurring some organizations to initiate mandates in advance of the change.

The Kaiser survey asked only whether people have quit over a vaccine requirement. It did not pose the question of whether they have quit when faced with a vaccine requirement with a testing option.

However, according to the survey, more than a third (37%) of unvaccinated workers (5% of adults overall) say they would leave their job if their employer required them to get a vaccine or get tested weekly, a share that rises to seven in 10 unvaccinated workers (9% of all adults) if weekly testing is not an option. Six in 10 workers (8% of all adults) also say they would ask for an exemption if presented with such a mandate.

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Related: 6 takeaways from EEOC guidance on religious vaccine exemptions

Some of those survey scenarios are still hypothetical as the majority of employers don’t have mandates in place, but the data does give an early read as to the impact employer vaccine mandates may have on turnover. Although turnover remains a concern, experts say it isn’t playing out as badly as some predicted. Experts also believe employers’ fear of losing employees to a vaccine mandate will lessen as more employers put those requirements in place; with more mandates in place, employees will have fewer places to work if they refuse a vaccine.

Kaiser’s results are also in line with recent data from consulting firm Mercer, which surveyed employers about vaccine mandates in early October. Of the 34% of employer respondents who already have some type of vaccine mandate in place, the vast majority (71%) said there was no impact on turnover. Of those who said they have lost some workers to vaccination mandates, 25% saw a slight increase in turnover (1%-5% above normal) and just 4% saw a significant increase (more than 5% above normal).

“The percentages are playing out to be very small,” says Mary Kay O’Neill, senior health and benefits consultant at Mercer.

For months, employers have been largely hesitant about mandating COVID-19 vaccines and instead have been encouraging employees to get the shot, but the Delta variant surge, lackluster vaccine rates and Biden’s upcoming rule have scores of employers changing course. “There’s a sea change with vaccine mandates. A lot of companies are trying to make it unpleasant, or at least expensive, to be nonvaccinated,” O’Neill says, referring to the cost of weekly testing and the health insurance surcharges many employers are applying to unvaccinated workers. “It will be harder to be unvaccinated.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former 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.