Businesses are scrambling to secure systems for verifying COVID-19 vaccinations and implementing weekly testing following President BidenJoe BidenSocial media making political polarization worse: report Biden and UK’s Johnson to meet for talks this month: report Toyota, Honda knock union-made EV incentive in Dems’ spending package MORE’s vaccine-or-test order announced last week.
The White House has not yet clarified key details of the new requirements, such as how companies should verify an employee’s vaccination status or whether the federal government will pick up the tab on testing, creating uncertainty among employers on how to move forward.
Still, many companies are already eyeing digital platforms to ensure employees comply with the forthcoming rule.
ReturnSafe, a startup that helps companies track workers’ vaccination and testing status through a phone app, received a 76 percent increase in inquiries following Biden’s announcement, mostly from firms with more than 1,000 employees, according to CEO Jikku Venkat.
“More and more employers are thinking about testing and vaccine protocols and how they will implement them,” Venkat said. “If I have thousands of employees spread across the country, I need some systematic way of doing all of this from a human resources standpoint.”
The administration’s rule will require companies with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing. Businesses that don’t comply with the rule could face fines up to $14,000 per violation, raising the stakes for firms that have a large number of employees to keep track of.
Employers are also looking into digital vaccine cards that have been implemented in several states as part of the Vaccination Credential Initiative, a public-private partnership that includes tech and health care giants such as Microsoft Corp. and the Mayo Clinic.
A large number of firms that already mandate vaccines for employees have yet to impose verification measures, instead asking employees to attest that they got the shot. That standard likely won’t satisfy the Biden administration rule, experts said, but as of now it’s not clear.
Domenique Camacho Moran, an employment attorney at New York-based law firm Farrell Fritz P.C., said she is advising companies to provide multiple methods for employees to verify vaccine status by using a digital platform or the COVID-19 vaccine card they received after the shots.
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to formally unveil the administration’s rule within weeks, according to Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsBiden steps into legal fight with vaccine mandates House Democrat proposes vaccine or testing mandate for trains and planes Biden under pressure to ratchet up vaccine aid MORE, coordinator of the White House COVID-19 response team. The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday about any guidance on how employers should plan to enforce the vaccine rules.
The administration has not said whether employers or workers will have to pay for weekly COVID-19 testing or whether the government will reimburse them for the cost. It’s also unclear what kind of tests will be required, such as in-home test kits or more expensive lab tests, and if the rules also will apply to remote workers.
“Those are the kind of questions that, for employers, there’s a real wait and see, because they just don’t know what to mandate,” Camacho Moran said.
The uncertainty is causing angst among businesses that want to get ahead of the rule by purchasing testing kits or implementing a vaccine verification program.
The Consumer Brands Association, a trade group that represents packaged goods companies such as Coca-Cola, Clorox and General Mills, sent a list of questions to the White House on Monday about the specifics of the vaccine requirement.
In addition to inquiries about the cost of testing and vaccine verification, the group asked about how booster shots will factor in and whether employers will be liable if a worker is caught falsifying their vaccination status.
“Federal agencies must move quickly, anticipate challenges, promptly answer questions and partner with the private sector if we are to realize successful implementation of the administration’s COVID-19 Action Plan and achieve our shared goal of increased vaccination rates,” Geoff Freeman, Consumer Brands president and CEO, wrote in a letter to Biden.
National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said in a statement after Biden’s announcement Thursday that while he supports the White House effort to boost vaccinations, it is key that “undue compliance costs do not burden manufacturers, large and small alike.”
Some of the largest U.S. companies, including Google, Walmart, United Airlines and Amazon, have already mandated vaccines for some or all of their employees. The administration’s rule is expected to affect around 80 million U.S. workers.
About one-fifth of businesses already mandate vaccinations and another 29 percent were considering requiring the shot before the end of the year, according to a recent survey of large U.S. companies from advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, lobbying groups that are pushing to derail Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan, are not opposed to the administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses, even as GOP governors and conservative groups pledge to fight the measure in court.
Biden’s rule enjoys support from about 3 in 5 Americans, according to a Morning Consult-Politico poll released Monday.
The White House announced the new requirement last week as 25 percent of U.S. adults remained unvaccinated against COVID-19, which has spread rapidly through much of the nation over the last month.