Should Employers Require Employees to get a COVID Vaccine before Returning to Work?

February 23, 2021

(Probably not, according to this research.)

There are currently two different COVID-19 (COVID) vaccines that are FDA-approved and recommended for use in the United States; one is manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and the other by Moderna.  


Three additional vaccines are in Phase 3 clinical trials. Both of the FDA-approved vaccines have demonstrated 94-95% efficacy in preventing COVID after two doses.1,2  With the enormous personal and financial toll SARS-CoV-2 (CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID) has taken on both the United States and the world, it may surprise some to learn that not everyone is enthusiastic about being inoculated with these highly effective vaccines.

Rather than investigating the many reasons why people may or may not want to get a COVID vaccine, a recent survey by Perceptyx instead focused on which mitigation efforts, including COVID vaccination, would make employees feel safe when they return to the physical workplace. Interestingly, the top three mitigation strategies that would make employees feel most confident about returning to the workplace were:

  • Mask wearing (56.5%)
  • Social distancing (53.5%)
  • Frequent cleaning and sanitization (39.4%)

Employers requiring employees to be vaccinated for COVID ranked fourth on the list, at only 27.2%.3

The authors of the survey emphasize that many employees have strong feelings regarding employers requiring COVID vaccination for their employees. More than half (53%) of employees indicated they believe employers should not require vaccination for their employees before returning to the physical workplace and 43% specified they would consider leaving their position if their employer required vaccination. The statistics were even higher amongst employees that classified themselves as essential workers: 60% indicated they believe employers should not require vaccination for their employees and 51% suggested they would consider leaving their employer if vaccinations were required. The authors note that many essential workers feel more comfortable in the physical workplace compared to employees that work from home because essential workers have experience working on-site and know whether or not current on-site mitigation strategies adequately reduce CoV-2 infection.

The results of the survey suggest that requiring employees to vaccinate is not the best plan for employers that want to maximize employee vaccinations. Encouraging, rather than requiring, employees to get vaccinated will likely increase compliance. According to the survey, 52.6% of employees would get vaccinated for COVID if a vaccine were available today. This increases to 56.3% if employers recommend getting the vaccine and rises to 60.3% if employers offer $100 to employees that receive the vaccine. Importantly, employees were twice as likely to respond that they would get vaccinated for COVID if their employer recommended it, but only if the employee also indicated that their manager cares about them as a person, underscoring the importance of quality leadership and employee development in both workplace morale and compliance.

Since the start of vaccine distribution and administration just two months ago, we have experienced many of the difficulties associated with inoculating an entire world against a virus we are just beginning to understand. Importantly, both molecular (PCR) and rapid COVID testing methods will continue to decrease infection rates in the workplace. Additionally, sentinel testing, which regularly tests a different random sample of the workforce, provides an effective and alternative testing strategy for organizations that cannot practically or affordably test every employee every day. While we race against time to increase immunity to CoV-2 and decrease hospitalizations and deaths, new CoV-2 variants are evolving with lightning speed. Time will tell how effective our current vaccines are against the U.K. (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) CoV-2 variants, making our most basic virus mitigation methods--mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing--as important as ever.

Kailos Genetics has developed a fully customizable COVID-19 testing program, Assure SentinelTM, for sentinel testing of organizations of any size. Our platform utilizes oral rinse sampling and pooled testing to decrease testing discomfort, costs and turnaround times. Click here to learn more about the program or contact us with any questions you may have regarding COVID-19 testing.

1U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 frequently asked questions. Accessed February 11, 2021. 

2U.S Food and Drug Administration. Moderna COVID-19 frequently asked questions. Accessed February 11, 2021.

3Wells, B. and Killham, E. A workplace divided: split opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine could disrupt the return to work.