The new federal vaccine requirement announced by President Joe Biden has created another worry for large businesses: With help wanted signs up almost everywhere, some could lose valuable employees or won't be able to find new ones.
Biden announced sweeping new orders Thursday that will require employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccinations against COVID-19 or offer weekly testing. The new rules could affect as many as 100 million Americans, although it's not clear how many of those people are currently unvaccinated.
Even those who favor Biden's decision as a way to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading further are afraid that vaccination-averse workers will leave, or job seekers won't apply for their openings. Some workers may also switch to smaller companies where shots in the arm aren't required.
“In a tight marketplace, it's very difficult to find employees, much less to keep our current employees,” said Jonathan Chariff, CEO of South Motors, a group of 12 auto dealerships in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area with more than 1,100 workers. “It's easy for them to go and find another job elsewhere.”
To be sure, the mandate could make some employees more comfortable working with others in tight spaces. Indeed, Chariff said his company supports Biden's move. And although he, too, wants to make sure all workers are vaccinated to keep them safe, he decided against requiring it because of the labor shortage. Right now he has 80 to 100 openings.
Karl Wadensten, CEO of Richmond, Rhode Island-based VIBCO Vibrators, was an early adopter of masks, weekly virus testing and temperature checks at his manufacturing business and has encouraged vaccinations, but he fears he'd lose employees if he forced them to get the jab.
Wadensten, whose company makes industrial vibrators used in dump trucks and other applications, said Friday he is waiting for more clarity about what the Biden orders will mean for his business, which has a small number of government contracts. His workforce has been hovering just above and below 100 employees, of whom about 85% are vaccinated.
“For that other 15%, it would be detrimental to their beliefs and values that they have,” he said.
Conversely, smaller companies see being exempt as an advantage. Like other businesses, Alan Dietrich, CEO of Crater Lake Spirits in Bend, Oregon, is facing staff shortages. He has 36 workers, with an immediate need for two or three more.
“Being left out of the mandate is helpful for hiring,” he said. “We are still finding that a small but meaningful number of people in our area are vaccine-hesitant, and staffing is so tough that even one person is significant to us.”
On the other hand, he said, the business is more susceptible to slowdowns or shutdowns because of positive tests. But a statewide mask mandate in Oregon “definitely helps keep our staff safer,” he said.