by Juliette MICHEL
NEW YORK, United States (AFP) — From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, slaughterhouses to airlines, more American firms are demanding their employees get Covid-19 vaccines to return to the workplace, and are willing to fire them if they violate the rule.
CNN news network terminated three employees who flouted the policy and went to work without being immunized against the coronavirus.
“Let me be clear — we have a zero-tolerance policy on this,” CNN Chair Jeff Zucker wrote in a memo to employees that was tweeted Thursday by a reporter for the channel.
While experts say they have the legal authority to do so, corporations had been reluctant to take this step earlier in the pandemic, possibly fearing a political backlash.
But as firms have moved to re-open their offices, US vaccination rates have stalled at around 50 percent and infections have surged due to the Delta variant.
United Airlines boss Scott Kirby, who in January said he was considering a vaccine requirement, on Friday announced 67,000 US-based workers will have to be vaccinated by the end of October.
“We know some of you will disagree with this decision,” he wrote in a message to employees.
“But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”
Employers have the right to require workers returning to their offices to be vaccinated, with exemptions for medical or religious reasons, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Eric Feldman, professor of health law and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said CNN was justified in firing workers, if the rules were clearly laid out.
“Putting oneself at risk by not getting vaccinated is foolish, but putting others at risk is clearly unethical and, in many cases, illegal, and it should be grounds for dismissal,” he said.
Wall Street firms have been pushing for personnel to return to in-person work, and investment bank Morgan Stanley and asset manager BlackRock said in June that only vaccinated employees would be allowed in their offices.
In Silicon Valley, tech behemoths Google, Facebook and Microsoft have announced similar rules in recent days.
Meat producer Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that vaccination will be mandatory for all employees, in offices and slaughterhouses, starting November 1.
With the explosion of infections linked to the Delta variant, “this is the right time to take the next step to ensure a fully vaccinated workforce,” said Claudia Coplein, the company’s chief medical officer.
Slightly less than half of Tyson’s employees have been vaccinated so far, matching the national average.
Companies had been “waiting to see how many employees would do it on their own” before resorting to mandates, said Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School.
But “so many people have come to believe that it is legitimate to object to being vaccinated that employers are worried there will be political pushback on them from a mandate,” he told AFP.
Retail chain Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, made vaccines mandatory for head office employees, but not for workers in supermarkets and warehouses.
Cappelli notes those stores tend to be in rural areas where anti-vaccine sentiment is high.
As many companies are struggling to find workers, especially for low-wage positions, they may not want to risk scaring away potential applicants.
“We would have hoped that we would have been out of this mess by now. And we’re not, because a lot of people don’t trust the system,” Michael Urban of the University of New Haven told AFP.
Now that some major corporations have taken the step, others are likely to follow, he said. But for small companies struggling to survive, he believes it would be easier if authorities announced a broad vaccine mandate.
© Agence France-Presse