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Over half of U.S. employers will require employee vaccines, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

November 30, 2021

Employer enthusiasm for financial incentives for vaccination has waned, and employers are split on whether vaccine mandates will help recruiting or lead to resignations.
Health and Benefits
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ARLINGTON, VA, November 30, 2021 — As the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate works its way through the courts, a new survey by leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson has found that the majority of U.S. employers now require or are planning to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The survey, conducted November 12 to 18, found that more than half (57%) of all respondents either require or plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations. That includes 18% that currently require vaccinations, 32% that plan to require vaccinations only if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) takes effect, and 7% that plan to mandate vaccinations regardless of the ETS status. The ETS, which is currently being reviewed in the courts, allows employers to offer weekly testing as an option to unvaccinated employees.

Few employers (3%) with vaccination mandates have reported a spike in resignations, although nearly one in three (31%) of those planning mandates are very concerned that this could contribute to employees leaving their organizations. On the other hand, nearly half of employers (48%) believe that vaccine mandates could help recruit and retain employees.

In addition to vaccine mandates, employers are planning to require testing and masks to protect employees who are returning to the workplace. Nearly all employers will offer testing (84%), most on a weekly basis (80%). One-quarter (25%) will require unvaccinated employees to pay for testing unless prohibited by state law. Nearly all employers (90%) require or plan to require masks to be worn indoors.

“Despite the current holding pattern pending the court rulings, we advise employers to proceed with plans to implement the mandate as well as other efforts to protect their workers,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader, Willis Towers Watson. “Employers can encourage vaccinations and boosters with scheduling flexibility and time off, promote regular testing, stipulate mask wearing onsite to ensure employee health and safety — and support this with regular communications.”

The survey also found waning employer enthusiasm for financial incentives for COVID-19 vaccination. Just 2% report that they have either a health insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees or premium reduction for vaccinated employees in place. Three-quarters (75%) offer no financial incentives; one in nine (11%) offer some financial incentive, and 14% have discontinued or plan to discontinue financial incentives.

About three in 10 respondents (29%) say their organizations have already reached their “new normal” in terms of returning to the workplace and ending pandemic-related policies. Roughly the same amount (28%) say they don’t expect their organizations to reach the new normal until the third quarter of 2022 or later. Additionally, respondents report that 34% of employees are now working remotely. This is expected to drop to 27% in the first quarter of 2022. Employers that have returned remote workers to the workplace report that public health recommendations (79%), state regulations and recommendations (74%), and business needs (71%) were considerations in their decisions.

“Employers continue to evaluate the best way to keep their workers, families and the community safe. With the risk of COVID-19 infection higher now than a month ago, some companies have delayed bringing employees back to the worksite,” said Dr. Levin-Scherz.

Other survey findings include:

  • Business travel: Half of respondents (50%) have pandemic restrictions in place for business travel. Among those, nearly two-thirds (65%) prohibit international travel, while 53% require approval for international travel. Roughly one-quarter (27%) prohibit domestic business travel.
  • Vaccination rates: Nearly one in five employers (19%) believe their employee vaccination rate is under 50%, and one-third (33%) believe 75% or more of employees are vaccinated.
  • Federal contractors: The majority (53%) of federal contractors report they will apply vaccine mandate rules for federal contractors to all workers at all locations.
  • COVID-19 testing: Employers continue to formulate their plans for testing. Among those that are offering or planning to offer testing, nearly half (47%) are either unsure or have not decided what type of testing to deploy, and 40% are either unsure or have not yet decided who would pay for testing.
  • Exemptions: Over half of respondents requiring or planning to require vaccinations will evaluate requests for medical exemptions (51%) and religious exemptions (58%) internally.

“Much has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet vaccination, masking, distancing and better ventilation remain essential in protecting workers from the virus and its variants,” concluded Dr. Levin-Scherz.

About the survey

A total of 543 U.S. employers participated in the Willis Towers Watson Fall 2021 COVID-19 Vaccination and Reopening the Workplace Survey, which was conducted November 12 to 18, 2021. Respondents employ 5.2 million workers.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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