Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Here’s What Small Business Owners Think About Biden’s Vaccination Mandate

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Bob Szuter, who with his father owns Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, only has 80 employees so technically isn’t required to comply with the Biden plan. Here’s what a handful of business owners have to say about the new vaccine mandate.

He has been worried that if he mandated the vaccine he’d risk losing workers. And he was already understaffed and having a hard time hiring. But in the wake of the announcement, and due to a situation that arose over the weekend at his restaurant, he felt emboldened to do so.

Szuter believes at least 90% of his employees are fully vaccinated. “There are still a few we know are not. We worry about their health and what can happen to the business,” he said.

A vaccinated staff member tested positive, which meant any unvaccinated employee who came into contact with that staff member would have to quarantine, he said. So he decided to make the vaccine mandatory for everyone working there.

“With where we are in the pandemic and dealing with staffing issues, it’s more important to make sure our entire staff is healthy as can be and to limit any downtime due to illness or isolation and quarantine measures,” Szuter said.

He’s not making testing an option for his unvaccinated workers, either, he added. “It wouldn’t fix the issues for us.”

Szuter remains concerned that by having a vaccine mandate he could still lose staff to other small businesses that don’t have one. That’s why he wishes Biden’s new rule applied to businesses with 50 or more employees to level the playing field even further.

A sigh of relief

“But, at the end of the day, targeting employers with 100 or more certainly did make it easier for us to just go ahead and ,” he said.

For two other business owners, Biden’s move has taken the heat off of them in making the tough call to mandate.

“Our general response is mild excitement,” said Tyler Enders, co-owner of Made in KC, which sells gifts and coffees, as well as spirits and wines at some locations. He employs roughly 115 employees across nearly a dozen locations in Missouri and Kansas.

“It redirects people’s frustration …It really relieves that pressure.”

Kevin Kelly, co-owner and CEO of Emerald Packaging, a California-based produce-packaging manufacturer with roughly 275 employees, was equally blunt.

“It makes life so much easier,” he said. “I just talked to employees and said, ‘I’m not going to try to persuade you anymore.’”

Like a lot of employers, Kelly had been offering employees financial incentives to get vaccinated. But now he is simply going to require that they do it.

“I’m just not going to do that. We don’t have to do the ‘or,’” he said. Instead, he plans to simply require vaccination as a condition of employment and not offer testing as an alternative, unless employees themselves or the state government absorb the cost.

He would be concerned, he said, if he is going to be on the hook to pay for weekly Covid tests should any of his employees remain unvaccinated. Kelly estimates that at $100 a pop, a weekly test for 40 or more employees will be an expense — and a coordination hassle — that he’s not willing to assume.

It’s good for the economy

Employers are eagerly awaiting upcoming guidance from federal agencies to clarify the rules for enacting Biden’s plan, including who will be legally obligated to pay for testing if an employee remains unvaccinated, whether by choice or due to a religious or medical exemption.

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