One-third of executive leaders at private employers say they are still in wait-and-see mode and the rest are weighing a set of responses more nuanced than “go on or rescind.” Options include more masking, more tracking and looser verification of COVID-19 test results.
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After the U.S. Supreme Court blocked (and the federal government subsequently withdrew) the vaccine mandate for large companies, the decisions on COVID-19 safety in that country’s workplaces are back in the hands of employers. The headlines have set up a stark choice — and a false dichotomy. Dueling news stories centered on the backlash to Starbucks’ reversal of its requirement for inoculations— and also on criticism of Carhartt for doubling down.
Yet a more nuanced set of changes is on corporate leaders’ minds, according to more than 120 private-sector executives, mostly from HR and finance, that we polled during a 19 January webinar. Only a few told us they’d drop an existing directive. Nearly half said the ruling will have no impact at all. Yet other respondents indicated that more collecting of vaccination data, more masking and looser verification of test results could be on the horizon.
Executives’ social media conversations peaked when the Supreme Court decision came out (see Figure 1). Their posts revealed sharp differences between:
Responses to the ruling at the organizational level reflect fault lines as well.
Forty-six percent of respondents (executives who did not identify as government employers or contractors) said the ruling will have no impact on their policies. Another third said they’re still weighing their options.
And slightly more than one-fifth said the ruling means they’re likely to pull back on requirements:
12% are less likely to put a mandate in place.
6% are less likely to adopt a testing strategy.
3% said they’ll drop their vaccine mandate(see Figure 2).
About a third of companies (34%) said the ruling would change their policies on tracking vaccination status — division was apparent here too:
More employers are considering tighter mask requirements than looser ones (see Figure 4):
A quarter said they are more likely to require masks at work.
Over half (57%) will continue to follow mask rules set before the ruling.
Only 5% are less likely to require mask wearing.
In individual comments, executives said their organizations:
Will require masks and social distancing in the office, regardless of vaccination status
Are reviewing data about the use of N-95 masks
While 44% said their company will stick with their existing position on testing, 23% said their organization is less likely to test the workforce as a result of the ruling (see Figure 5).
Yet even those who still plan to test their workers may relax their validation practices (see Figure 6). Meanwhile, 25% of companies now said they will allow employees to self-report or self-attest to COVID-19 testing results with no validation, up from 11% in November, when court challenges were pending.
Employers are less likely to:
Require documents of test results on the internal HR system
Have employees upload testing outcomes to a third-party application
Inspect paper or electronic copies of COVID-19 tests on site
Ask workers to provide copies of results for HR to verify
Only 28% of executives said their organization has updated staff on how the company is responding to the court ruling.
Against a backdrop of a red-hot war for talent, the reaction of employees or job candidates play a role in decision making. Here, too, consensus is elusive.
Thirty-nine percent think that having a mandate in place improves their employer brand, compared to 23% who see it as a net negative (see Figure 7).
Compiled by Steve Shapiro and Dian Zhang
Contact Steve with questions or comments.
Contributions from the following Gartner teams:
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These executives indicated that they were not government contractors or part of a government agency. The 13 January ruling applied only to OSHA’s rule for large private employers who are not healthcare providers. Additional lawsuits are challenging rules for government contractors and federal employees.
Gartner conducts social listening analysis with third-party party data tools. The results should not be used separately from the rest of this research. Social media data is from 1 November 2021 to 20 January 2022 in all geographies (except China) and recognized languages. Ritesh Kumar Srivastava and Fahim Talmeez from the Social Media Analytics Team contributed to this research.
Gartner Workplace Reopening and Retention Strategies Webinar Poll (19 January 2022), n = 167 nongovernment executive leaders.