The business community has been pondering its options in ensuring a safe workplace, but compulsory vaccination is not at the top of the list, said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.
Office professionals are not known for anti-vaccine sentiments, so employers aren't very concerned about them declining the vaccine, Wylde said. Additionally, this segment can largely opt to work from home, so it might not make a huge difference if some staffers choose not to get the shots, she said.
In the retail sector, concerns vary, especially when it comes to workers who interact with the public, Wylde said. She recounted that a large retailer she spoke with said it would recommend that its employees get the vaccine and facilitate their doing so but would not mandate it.
Similarly, Northwell Health, the largest private employer in the state with 60,000 workers, considered requiring employees to get the vaccine but ultimately decided against it.
"We recognize that we work with vulnerable populations and we need to keep our employees and patients safe," said Maxine Carrington, the health system's deputy chief human resource officer.
But Northwell ultimately decided that a heavy-handed approach was against its workplace culture and would be counterproductive to compliance, she said.
In December the health system conducted a survey on vaccine sentiment within a limited pool of employees and found 60% of its workers wanted it, 37% were unsure, and 3% said they would not take it. Northwell sought to address the uncertainty, and after an education and publicity campaign, the rate of unsure employees came down, Carrington noted.
"People tend to have a 'You take it first and I'll see how you do,' mentality," Carrington said with a laugh.
She pointed out that a hardline approach could lead employees to leave. "Workers might think, If you're going to force me to take it, I'll go work for someone else who won't force me," she said.
Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers, a union that represents 600,000 educators, agreed that workers should be given the right to choose whether to be vaccinated and encouraged to do so at the same time.
"We believe [all education professionals] should be given priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine should they choose to receive it when it becomes available," he said.
A vaccine mandate could be resisted by labor unions. Although it's unlikely a pre-COVID-19 collective-bargaining agreement would have covered a pandemic, any new issues that arise are negotiable, said Chamtouli Huq, associate professor at the City University of New York School of Law.
Unions would want to be involved in the conversations on vaccines, as ultimately their goals of protecting the workplace align with the employer's, said Pat Kane, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association.