No Vaccination Required

More organizations have dropped vaccination mandates. Will that create internal friction with any workers?

Two years ago, as corporate leaders began planning for the first COVID-19 vaccinations, they faced a challenging decision: Should they require employees to be vaccinated, and if so, what would be the consequences for their workforce? Many chose to enact mandates—and threatened to fire workers who didn’t comply.

Now, several major companies have another decision to make—and this one is being made much more quietly. Increasingly, firms are no longer requiring all workers to be vaccinated. New York City recently lifted its own mandate for private employers, but experts say companies may have another reason for their internal change of policy: labor shortages. "Removing broad impediments is one way to ensure that they can hire when they need to hire,” says David Vied, global sector leader of Korn Ferry’s Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice.

Mandates may have proved expensive and difficult to implement for many employers, but according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, they may have led to 15 million additional vaccinated individuals. Rescinding them now, experts say, may cause some friction among workers who complied during the pandemic. “If there is dissent, it’s most likely to be among those who would prefer to be among people who are vaccinated,” says Elise Freedman, leader of Korn Ferry’s Organizational Strategy and Workplace Transformation practices. Her advice: firms should communicate both the change and the reason why.

For now, the impact of the changes varies almost by firm. Dan Kaplan, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in HR executive roles, says the discussion over vaccines as a workplace requirement seems almost old-fashioned. One client recently asked him to bring proof of vaccination before an on-site visit, which came as a surprise. "It sort of feels like the world's moved on,” he says. “We knew there was no way companies were going to be able to forever police that you got boosted every six months or a year."

But other industries may be less inclined to roll back mandates, including health care and the life sciences industry, says Freedman. She notes that she also recently visited a client in the latter sector and was required not only to show proof of vaccination but also to take a rapid test before entering the facility to meet with company leadership.