In the next few days the White House is expected to issue a rule that could change the path of the pandemic and change the future of the workforce.
The Biden administration is proposing vaccine mandates for companies with 100 or more employees. That's about two-thirds of the national private-sector workforce.
The rules would require employers to enforce a mandatory vaccination policy or create a plan for regular Covid-19 testing.
So what would that mean for Connecticut? According to the most recent data from 2018, there were 4,158 companies in the state with 100 or more employees. All together those firms employ more than one million people. It's worth noting that a lot of those are health care facilities or universities which already have vaccine requirements in place.
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The head of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association says it's smaller companies that are really waiting for the federal rules to come down.
"They're quite honestly concerned, they've already got, based on some surveys that we've done of the membership community, 70 to 80% of their employees vaccinated so they can potentially lose 20 or 30% of their workforce when they're already dealing with labor shortages. That in addition to them being put in the middle on how to enforce the mandate whenever the ruling comes out. Do they have to get rid of their employees otherwise they get fine? How's the whole disciplinary process work has them quite honestly, very concerned," CBIA President Chris DiPentima said.
The state estimates that there are 70,000 to 80,000 job openings right now. Companies are worried that requiring vaccines could cause them to lose even more employees.
"It could be a huge strain on something that's already the number one issue, at least here in Connecticut with we're not as far along in our job recovery as some other states in the Northeast, and certainly, as well as the country has been doing. We're still kind of lagging in our unemployment percentage. We still haven't recovered 90,000 of the jobs that we lost during Covid. We got about 70,000, 80,000 job openings right now. We still have 50,000 people on unemployment. So we haven't seen the job growth that we were hoping to see being a leader and the country and addressing the pandemic and so you add the vaccine mandate on top of already our top issues it's like really rubbing salt into the wounds and that's a major concern of the business community," DiPentima explained.
Dan Schwartz, an attorney at Shipman & Goodwin and also the publisher of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, answered some of the legal questions that are coming out of this mandate.
Schwartz explained that if an employee tries to take legal action, it would be the federal government, not the employers, answering a lawsuit.
"I would expect if the employers are just following the rules that have been articulated by the Department of Labor, I think an employee is gonna have a tough time establishing any type of violation by the employer. But it's going to be important for the employers to make sure they understand what's in the rule, what testing is going to be allowed, and really work with employees to make sure that you're in compliance."
On the flip side, if an employer chooses not to enforce the mandate, they are opening themselves up to a potential claim by an employee.
"Every employer has an obligation to provide a safe workplace. Even if an employer disagrees with the rule. It's important for the employer to comply and for the employees to speak up if they don't think that their employer is abiding by the rule," Schwartz said.
He pointed out that while there may be challenges, the vast majority of employees have been complying with vaccine mandates.
"The vast majority of employers have been complying. And so sometimes you should ignore some of the headlines or some of the outliers and really look to the mainstream and overall these mandates been widely accepted by employees women have been implemented."