- The response from employees and customers to our vaccine mandate has been overwhelmingly positive.
- Most pushback is ideological, and can be refuted.
- The stakes are too high to give into fear. The right thing for business leaders to do is to mandate the COVID vaccine.
- Benny Buller is founder and Chief Executive Officer of VELO3D.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Calls are increasing for businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for their employees. The White House has said it supports private employers who do this. A former health adviser to President Biden is arguing that businesses should do so quickly, saying we're running out of time. In New York City, which has the most Fortune 500 companies and small businesses of any city in America, Mayor Bill De Blasio is urging businesses to do so.
These are positive developments. Vaccines are saving lives. While stories of "breakthrough infections" - vaccinated people getting COVID-19 - have made the news, CNN notes that "about 99.999% of fully vaccinated Americans have not had a deadly COVID-19 breakthrough case." And more than 97% of people hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated.
Still, executives are torn. On the one hand, they want to be part of the solution to stopping the pandemic. On the other, they're worried about pushback from people who oppose the idea.
I imposed a vaccine mandate several months ago for my 150 employees as well as visitors, such as suppliers and representatives from businesses we sell to. The overwhelming majority have been extremely positive and grateful. Still, I have faced some pushback. Here are the biggest arguments you're likely to face and how to handle them.
I offered a medical exemption for employees who brought a note from their medical provider saying it's necessary. This is something all employers should do.
But there's also another set of medical concerns some people bring up: They don't trust the medicine behind the vaccines. When people say this, I explain that more than 4 billion doses have been administered, including about 350 million in the United States. The results, as articulated by national and international health authorities, show that the vaccines are wildly successful.
Yes, there are risks and side effects, but the benefits far outweigh them. Even with the Delta variant being spread by vaccinated people as well as the unvaccinated, the fact remains that unvaccinated people are filling hospitals and often expressing deep regrets. In heartbreaking stories across the country, some people are doing so on their deathbeds or following the deaths of loved ones, like an Alabama mother who lost her unvaccinated 28-year-old son.
Many religious leaders in the United States and around the world have called for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Still, some people are seeking religious exemptions from mandates. There may be some thorny legal questions, including what counts as an employee's "sincerely held religious belief" and what causes "undue hardship" for an employer. Also, rules can in some ways vary by state. Business leaders should get clear legal guidance.
Here in California, I did not offer a religious exemption when I issued a vaccine mandate, and no one asked me for one. I had one supplier who stands against all vaccines on religious grounds. We spoke, and chose to go our separate ways as friends.
The most complaints you're likely to get involve ideologies about what businesses should and should not do. Here are the three I've heard the most:
"It's an infringement on personal liberties." When people say this, I explain that liberties include those of private employers. We are entitled to set policies for our businesses as long as they're equitable; you have the right to decide whether or not to work for the company.
"It's putting the company in a political camp." There's nothing political about requiring vaccines. It's sad that anyone sees trying to save lives in a pandemic as a political act. In fact, as a CEO I avoid weighing in on political issues, as I understand how polarizing those are. My customers happen to lean conservative, concentrated largely in red states, and they've also been overwhelmingly supportive. They see it as a pragmatic move to keep our employees healthy, working, and pulling through for our customers.
"It erodes the CEO's leadership." Some people believe taking a divisive action like this could damage your authority, turning some employees against you. But there has been no erosion in my leadership. In fact, employees have told me they see our mandate as an act of strong leadership. They've been happy to resume more interactions, in keeping with medical guidelines.
As a Scientific American headline put it, "Vaccine mandates are lawful, effective and based on rock-solid science." Business leaders must act with that knowledge. We're in a position to help deliver an end to this crisis. Together, we can make a huge difference. The stakes are too high to say no.