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To mandate or not: How businesses are weathering the SCOTUS decision

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/23/2022 Shannon Rae Green, USA TODAY
Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine mandates for businesses © Provided by USA TODAY Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine mandates for businesses

On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast:

With the recent Supreme Court ruling barring a federal vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees, business owners have mixed feelings. Many trying to prepare for the February 9th deadline feel they've been thrown for a loop, while others who were against the mandate feel relief. So now that it's up to the business and not the federal government, how are businesses weathering the SCOTUS decision? We sat down with USA TODAY reporter Charisse Jones to talk about what businesses are doing.  Charisse jones can be found on Twitter @charissejones.

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text. 

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Hey there, I'm Shannon Rae Green, and this is 5 Things. It's Sunday, January 23rd 2022. These Sunday episodes are different. We're focusing on just one topic instead of five to take a deeper dive. First, I want to say how happy it made me to hear from people who listen to last week's episode about accessibility. Thank you for tweeting me and I also want to thank the people who might be listening right now who shared that episode with your friends and family. It was a personal one for me, and it was really great to hear from other people who have people in their lives with disabilities or have a disability themselves.

                                           You can always chat me up on Twitter, I'm @ShannonRaeGreen, and I would love to hear from you. What caught my eye this week in the news? Well, this headline that my colleague, Charisse Jones, wrote, Press on or pause? How businesses are navigating vaccine rules now. With the new Supreme Court ruling affecting the vaccine mandate, some businesses are choosing to stick with the mandate or ditch it. Charisse, thanks so much for joining me on the show to talk about this today.

Charisse Jones:                Thank you. Great to be here.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Charisse, let's start with the news. The Supreme Court barred the Biden administration from enforcing a federal mandate that businesses with more than 100 employees require that their workforce either get COVID-19 vaccinations or be tested weekly and wear masks. What are the specifics on how this is impacting businesses?

Charisse Jones:                Yeah, I think that that's really thrown some businesses for a loop because they were already in the process of trying to prepare for this federal order, which was going to go into effect on February 9th. Some of those companies are just going to proceed with what they were going to do. You also have a lot of companies that had already implemented mandates on their own, and they're going to stick with those policies. But you have some businesses that were actually breathing a sigh of relief because they felt that having that mandate, that requirement that they had to impose was going to make it harder to hire people, was going to cost them a lot of time and money monitoring people for vaccinations and for testing.

                                           And so they're actually glad that, that so-called obstacle is no longer in their way. It's really all over the map. It depends on the industry, the business, the part of the country, but they're trying to navigate things amid all of these differing attitudes and policies around mandates.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       So you mentioned in your story quite a few well known companies like Starbucks and others. How are companies that most of us know and companies that we interact with regularly, as consumers, how are they reacting to this new information? I think you who already said just now that it runs the gamut, so I would love to hear some examples that you had written about in your story.

Charisse Jones:                Sure, Citigroup, for instance, their employees, more than 99% of them, have already been vaccinated. They imposed their vaccine mandate a few months ago. I think it was in late September, and they're going to keep on with that policy. United and American Airlines have enacted vaccine mandates, and United says it's definitely sticking with it, as is American, because they say that, that saves lives. They have a hospitalization rate among their employees that's 100 times lower than the general population, and they haven't had any deaths from COVID among their staff in the last two or so months. So those are obviously very important steps. Those are important manifestations of what that policy has brought about, and they want to stick with it.


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                                           Starbucks is doing a more wait and see approach. They had never imposed a vaccine mandate, but they were strongly encouraging their workers in the United States to get vaccinated. They had deadlines for that to happen that were in line with the federal mandate. Now that, that federal mandate has been blocked, they're still encouraging people to get vaccinated, but they're saying that those deadlines are no longer in place because they don't have that urgency behind them in terms of the federal government requiring it. Then you have businesses, it's interesting, there's one called Carhartt, which makes work clothing for laborers and farmers.

                                           They had a vaccine mandate as well that they're going to keep in place, but they've gotten a lot of backlash, a lot of criticism on social media with people even calling for a boycott saying that their customer base, which is largely blue collar, they don't agree with the mandates. It shows the tight rope that a lot of businesses are having to walk to deal with this real hodgepodge of attitudes and policies. Then you also have certain businesses that want to impose a mandate because they want to get people back into the office who've been working remotely, especially, in fields like finance and professional services where people have that option to work from home. Again, you have all of these different companies that are trying to grapple with this rapidly changing landscape in the midst of a pandemic that's still going on.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Yes, it's tense, isn't it? Let's zoom in on the tension that's on that tight rope. What are some other reasons? You listed a few already, but what are some other reasons that businesses may want to avoid enforcing any sort of mandate, and alternatively, to keep the mandate and anything that's on that spectrum in between those options?

Charisse Jones:                Yeah, it's an incredibly, a historically tight labor market. A lot of businesses, particularly, in food services and retail have been struggling to find workers. We spoke to one company that makes artificial bouquets, and the owner was saying that to have a mandate in place would really cost him a lot of time and money. His COO would probably have to spend 150 to 200 hours monitoring vaccinations and testing. So he's one of those business owners that was really relieved that at least for the moment he doesn't have to do it. He also has been having a hard time hiring people, and he's based in Ogden, Utah. A conservative part of the country where mandates are not very popular.

                                           And he says that not only would he struggle even more to find people to put on his staff, he worries that he would lose people that he already has hired up to 30% of his workforce if he had a vaccine requirement that was in place. We spoke some people who work in the hotel industry who talked about having the same issue. But, again, on the flip side, you have a lot of professional companies, professional services companies, financial companies that have a lot of folks working remotely, and they feel to keep talent, to get people to come back into the office, to come on site, having a vaccine mandates really important so that people feel comfortable and feel safe in making that decision.

                                           Again, it's just all of these different businesses depending on their needs in terms of staffing, depending on the part of the country where they live, depending on what they're hearing from perspective hires. They're having to weigh all of that in making the calculation about whether to have this requirement. In a way when the federal government was requiring it, it got you off the hook. You could always say, "Well, we really don't want to do this, but we have to." But now that that's been removed, at least for now, they're having to make that decision and own it for themselves.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Yeah, I'll tell you one thing, Charisse, that I feel like I've learned in this almost two years of pandemic life, that you just have to continually up your risk management skills. You just have to keep flexing them and make individual choices, and it's just wild to watch it on this mass scale for the workforce. On that note, what are some top leaders and some experts that you talk to for your story? These are people who are watching the workforce in America and studying it even, what are they saying about this new information that came in from SCOTUS that may have thrown all of us for a loop?

Charisse Jones:                I think that the main advice or advisory that people are giving is that we just have to stay very flexible. That things are moving so quickly, whether it's from the medical community, from the CDC, from the courts that you just have to be malleable. I think that a year ago when we had the vaccine first appear on the scene, a lot of companies figured, "Oh, great, we're going to be back to business pretty soon. We'll put in our safety protocols and folks will be back in the office 90 to 100%." Then all of a sudden you have Omicron, another variant that comes up and people are trying to figure out how dangerous is it? Do we need to hold off on getting back in the office? Some businesses have had to shut down or reimpose takeout orders, if you're a restaurant.

                                           I think that we really just don't know how this is all going to play out because it's continually shifting, and so companies just really have to have plans in place for all the different scenarios. Again, really look at their particular business model. Look at how hard is it for them to hire? What do people they're talking to and interviewing say that they want in a workplace? What will make them feel comfortable? Is having a vaccine mandate a turnoff or is it something that they really feel is critical if they're going to take that job or return to work or return to the office. I think that we're all just in a wait and see mode, doing the best we can, stumbling at times. You plan the best you can and then you just have to see how the reality shakes out.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Yes, is there anything I haven't asked you that I should? You have such great insight in business and paying attention to how workers and employers are feeling as we navigate this pandemic?

Charisse Jones:                I think that's pretty much it. I think something else that we have to be mindful of is just that there are big regional differences, and the leadership politically of your state or your city really matters a lot too. We've got about a dozen states, most of them in the south with Republican governors that basically are limiting or banning workplace vaccine mandates. Then you've got 20 of other states where it's mandated for healthcare workers. New York City says that anybody who interacts with the public has to be vaccinated or be tested regularly. So really in terms of watching the landscape where you are, what the political leadership is like, has a great impact on what a workplace can do and what workers can expect.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Charisse, thank you so much for your insight. I always appreciate having you on the 5 Things podcast. Charisse, how can our listeners find your work? If you're going to share your Twitter handle, which I hope you do, what would you like them to chat you up about on Twitter?

Charisse Jones:                I'd love to hear, I'm @charissejones, that's @C-H-A-R-I-S-S-E Jones. Obviously, you can always find my work on usatoday.com. I'd love to hear what people's concerns are in this moment in terms of work? What are the things that are their priorities right now? Do they feel that having flexibility most important? Do they want to see wages go up? Do they want PTO that's extended in some way? But just what are they concerned about? What are their expectations? What are the things that are important to them? And just day to day life navigating it from a financial perspective, things are getting more expensive in the supermarket. How are they handling that? And what's their outlook or perspective in terms of where the society is going in the economic, financial, and health realm? I'd be interested in hearing all of those thoughts on those subjects.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Yeah, so listeners, if you have thoughts you want to share with Charisse, you know where to find her, @charissejones. Charisse, thank you again for being on the show today.

Charisse Jones:                Thank you.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       If you liked this episode of 5 Things, please write us a review on Apple Podcast. You can also tweet us at USA Today. And you can tweet me, I'm @ShannonRaeGreen. That's R-A-E, Green, just like the color. Let's talk. I'd love to find out what you think about today's episode. How your companies or the places you work are handling all the new developments that keep coming in as we endure this pandemic. A big thanks to my colleague, Alexis Davies, as always for editing this episode. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with 5 Things You Need to Know For Monday. Thank you for listening. I'm Shannon Rae Green, and I'll see you next time.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: To mandate or not: How businesses are weathering the SCOTUS decision

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