Will full vaccination be compulsory for employees to return to office?

What should HR do when faced with employees who are unwilling to get the jab for various reasons — religious, health, even lack of trust? Not all HR leaders feel that mandating the vaccine is the solution.

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Given the positive signs in the form of decline in daily number of positive cases and deaths due to COVID in the country, many companies are considering bringing employees back to office. In fact, IT giants such as TCS and Wipro have revealed their intentions to resume work-from-office starting September. When organisations start opening up, they will naturally want if not all, at least more than 50 per cent of their employees to be fully vaccinated. Still, some employees may be quite reluctant to get vaccinated for various reasons, such as health implications, religious beliefs or superstitions, and even lack of trust in the authorities and the vaccines.

In such a scenario, if companies wish to have their staff back in the physical workplace, the HR will have to deal with a part of the workforce that is fully vaccinated and a handful of those who are neither vaccinated nor have any intention of getting so in the future. It will be a challenge for organisations and the HR, to run the establishment smoothly in such situations. After all, the fully vaccinated employees may not get along with the ones who have a negative outlook towards the vaccine. What should the HR do here? Will it be wise to make a policy around it? Will making vaccination compulsory at the workplace be a good idea?

“To the ones who are not really interested in getting vaccinated, we can send scientific reports and researches, including articles, to prove that COVID vaccines are safe and rather effective”

Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Group

Some companies have tried to take a strong stand. Cashkaro, a cashback and coupon site, revealed to the media that to ensure the safety of its workforce, it will not allow employees to enter the office unless they are fully vaccinated. When IPE Global, a development-consulting company, found that 10 per cent of its workforce is yet to be vaccinated, it has now pushed back its plan, to open office full time, to the month of October. To ensure that employees take this seriously, the Company has withheld the incentives of those who are not vaccinated, unless there is a medical condition to justify avoiding the vaccine. Additionally, going forward, IPE Global plans to hire only those who are fully vaccinated. In the US, Google, Facebook and Lyft have decided to make it mandatory for employees returning to offices to be vaccinated.

Talking to HRKatha, Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance, reveals that Pramerica has not introduced any mandate or policy for employees to get vaccinated, but the management has sent a clear message that getting vaccinated is a must, and that employees should get vaccinated if they wish to continue working. The Company has made an exception for those employees who suffer from certain medical conditions or who may be allergic, on the condition that they produce a medical certificate from a recognised hospital clearly mentioning them being unfit to receive the vaccine. “Any change is bound to invite some resistance from the employees. However, as a company, one has to put one’s foot down. At Pramerica, we refuse to accept any lame excuse from people for not getting inoculated,” asserts Sharma. “Some people say that their religion is against vaccination, but an organisation is an equal opportunity employer. We cannot put people’s health at risk by allowing few exceptions,” he adds.

“Any change is bound to invite some resistance from the employees. However, as a company, one has to put one’s foot down. At Pramerica, we refuse to accept any lame excuse from people for not getting inoculated”

Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance

According to Sharma, vaccination should be made mandatory for employees at the workplace. Even a single case of non-compliance of guidelines can impact the overall morale of the workforce. It may be uncomfortable for the fully-vaccinated employees to share space with those not vaccinated.

However, it may not be possible for all companies to make vaccination mandatory at the workplace just yet. Recently, when the Arunachal Pradesh government barred people from entering the state without a vaccination certificate, the Guwahati High Court slammed the order, calling it discriminatory in nature.

Instead of making it mandatory, many organisations may simply put guidelines in place to force employees to get fully vaccinated at any cost. “Companies will follow the diplomatic route, so that eventually the reluctant ones get cornered,” tells Sharma.

Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Group, feels vaccination at the workplace should not be made compulsory or even forced on the employees. He believes that imposing it will only create negativity. Instead, he stresses on educating and sensitising both sects — those who believe in vaccination and those who don’t. “To the ones who are not really interested in getting vaccinated, we can send scientific reports and researches, including articles, to prove that COVID vaccines are safe and rather effective,” mentions Mukherjee.

Enigmasoft Technologies revealed to the media that 30 per cent of its employees refused to get vaccinated, but instead of forcing them, its HR is sending such employees articles backed by scientific findings that prove the safety of vaccines. Mukherjee also advises sensitising those who are fully vaccinated so that they feel comfortable with others who are not vaccinated. “One cannot force employees to get vaccinated. Instead, it is best to ask the ones who are wary to get tested periodically and monitor their reports,” opines Mukherjee. This is what is being planned at Bhilosa as revealed by Mukherjee.

Even Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Yokohama Off-Highway Tires, believes that vaccination should be promoted but not enforced on people. “Getting vaccinated is just one way of ensuring safety. it is not a full proof jacket, but a gear to keep ourselves safe,” tells Singh. In fact, Singh believes that the goal should be to achieve heard immunity where maximum number of people are vaccinated, but punishing people for the same will only create mess. “Don’t punish people for this, they have anyway seen a lot of stress in the second wave. Another mandate like this will only make situations worse for them. One day, people will anyway understand and get vaccinated because a minority government does not last too long,” mentions Singh.

“Dont punish people for this, they have anyway seen a lot of stress in the second wave, putting another mandate like this will make situations more worse for them”

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Yokohama Off-Highway Tires

Yokohama has put stickers on each and everyone’s desk, which shows their vaccination status. Slowly, the ones who are reluctant, will feel left out and be encouraged to get jabbed.

It has also been observed that companies are evaluating and hiring only those candidates who are fully vaccinated. Therefore, going forward, those who are not vaccinated, may find it tough to find employment. Mukherjee and Sharma both admit to being aware of companies following this policy, though they avoid naming them. Sharma predicts that evaluation of the medical fitness reports of candidates may become a trend, to gauge how much an employee is at risk in terms of health. Though Sharma is not sure of the level of impact it will have on a person’s employability, companies will definitely think of ways to keep track of it. “Given the manner in which the second wave panned out for all businesses, there will be a clear mandate from the board to hire people who are fit to work,” says Sharma.

While it is not clear whether full vaccination will or should be made mandatory at workplaces, it is certain that businesses will be accountable for ensuring the safety and health of their employees. They will, therefore, take adequate measures, with care and caution.

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