More US firms make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for employees

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NEW YORK • From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, slaughterhouses to airlines, more American companies are demanding that their employees get Covid-19 jabs to return to the workplace, and are willing to fire them if they violate the rule.

News network CNN terminated the services of three employees who flouted the policy and went to work without being immunised 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 on Thursday by a reporter for the channel.

While experts say they have the legal authority to do so, corporations in the United States had been reluctant to take this step earlier in the pandemic, possibly fearing a political backlash.

But as companies have moved to reopen their offices, US vaccination rates have stalled at around 50 per cent and infections have surged owing to the Delta variant.

United Airlines boss Scott Kirby, who in January said he was considering a vaccine requirement, announced on Friday that 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 who are returning to their offices to be vaccinated, with exemptions for medical or religious reasons, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Professor of health law and medical ethics Eric Feldman 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 companies have been pushing for staff 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, technology behemoths Google, Facebook and Microsoft have announced similar rules in recent days. Meat producer Tyson Foods announced on Tuesday that vaccination will be mandatory for all employees in offices and slaughterhouses from Nov 1.

Companies had been “waiting to see how many employees would do it on their own” before resorting to mandates, said professor of management Peter Cappelli at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

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”.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE





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