The FDA just gave full approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Many large companies have announced they will require their employees to be vaccinated to return to the office. Too Big Brother? Or good solution to avoid an incubator for more infections? All this and more on today’s podcast.
While I think this topic is of utmost importance, especially right now, I do not wish to go off on a political tangent. So I’ll present both sides-positing for the employer first: it’s my company, it’s my space, and my responsibility to ensure (as best I can) the safety and health of all my employees. Requiring them to be vaccinated/masked/tested is my choice. Employers’ rights are as important as employees’ rights. Just where does one start and one end? And how do you balance them? Taking a hard line could mean you end up with no employees. In our company, we haven’t made any absolutely unilateral demands on our team members. As the pandemic has progressed, we went to Zoom meetings, then in-person, back to Zoom when someone’s family member got Covid, and back to in-person.
Full disclosure, I got inoculated as soon as it was available to me. I wasn’t quite old enough nor did I have any qualifying conditions to make it into the first group, but I wasn’t far behind. My stance has been I’m protected and others can do what they wish.
Now, for the flip side. What about those that aren’t in good health, took the vaccine as early as they could, but have to have that job? Should they be required to come to work if their cubemate isn’t taking the same precautions? What if they’re caring for an elderly parent at home and don’t want to bring the virus home? All of these are extremely valid points, but back to the original premise which is – do employers have the right to force their employees to get vaccinated?
I think it is important for an employer to provide as safe an environment for their employees as possible. I mean, look at what landlords are currently going through to ensure a safe/clean environment for their tenants? Personally, I don’t think you can mandate this across the board. There are going to be exceptions to every rule and I think each company will have to decide this for themselves. We recently had a personal situation arise where we had planned a going away party for neighbors we’d had for over 20 years. One of the neighbors we invited asked if everyone had been inoculated and if they hadn’t, would that person please wear a mask? We had planned for the party to be outdoors, but they still wanted masks. Knowing the back story helped us immensely in deciding what to do – this couple’s adult son contracted an extremely aggressive form of cancer during the pandemic. He had gotten a bone marrow transplant and had been pronounced cancer-free, only to have it return very aggressively. This couple was a primary caregiver to their son as his wife had to continue working. They were taking him to the doctor, chemo treatments, shopping for him, etc. So their request absolutely made sense to us. But we have neighbors that were not vaccinated and have no intention of getting the vaccine. What to do? I thought we hit upon a great solution of having all the inoculated peeps show up at 7PM and the unvaccinated at 9PM. That way everyone could participate, see our friends off and not take unnecessary risks. The party went off without a hitch and we enjoyed spending time with everyone.
That was a fun night, but the key to that story is understanding. Once everyone understood the reason for the request for the accommodation, everyone was happy to agree. That’s what every employer will have to figure out as well. As long as we refuse to understand the why, we’ll just keep making assumptions about “those people” and never find solutions.
One other example: I know a guy who is a partner in a business who has a lung condition that makes him at high risk if he were to get Covid. He hasn’t gone to the office since March 2020 even though the rest of his company is back because one of the employees refuses to get the vaccine. He could force the employee to get vaccinated or work for home. It surprised me that a business owner would stay home instead of requiring the employee to do so.
That said, everyone take care and look out for your neighbor!
Bob Gibbons is a Real Estate Advisor & Tenant Advocate (also known as a tenant rep) with REATA Commercial Realty, Inc. which is a tenant advisory firm based in Plano, Texas. Bob serves companies in Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Allen, Richardson, Addison, Dallas and the surrounding areas and specializes in companies which lease or buy office and warehouse properties.