Forty-six percent of organizations now plan to institute a vaccine mandate where legally permissible, according to a survey released September 24 by Gartner, Inc. On September 15, 2021, Gartner polled 272 legal, compliance and HR executives following new federal guidance on vaccine mandates for health workers and updated Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations on vaccine and testing requirements for employees.

“The new federal guidance, as well as the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta wave, have combined to shift executive opinion on vaccine mandates significantly since the beginning of the year,” said Chris Audet, senior director, research, in the Gartner Legal & Compliance practice. “It is likely that we will see a clear majority of firms instituting mandates of some kind by the end of the year, considering that 36 percent of respondents are still unsure of their organization’s plans.”

The new survey data on vaccine mandates showed that only 17 percent of survey respondents reported that they will not require vaccine mandates (see accompanying Gartner chart).

“The latest federal guidance gives private sector employers the ability to shift the responsibility for requiring vaccination from the organization to the government,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice. “This shift in responsibility makes it easier for companies to implement a vaccine mandate.”

There is little consensus among executives on how their organizations will address remaining unvaccinated employees and the details of specific testing strategies. Fifteen percent of executives said their organizations will terminate non-compliant employees, with organizations split on whether they will administer some form of on-site testing, utilize third-party testing services, or require employees to be responsible for their own testing.

The polling data also revealed significant concerns among executives about the consequences of new mandates, even as they move towards implementing the policies in greater numbers. Sixty-nine percent of respondents feared a vaccine mandate will spur employee turnover due to resignations or terminations. Additionally, more than half of respondents feared the impact on company culture and employee morale, and they had general concerns on managing employees who refused the vaccine without an approved exemption.

“While organizational leaders feel more confident in setting vaccine and testing policies in light of new developments, much of their original hesitancy about the drawbacks of such policies remain,” said Audet. “Legal and compliance leaders will need to think through the implications of assuming responsibility for employee health data with related administrative work, along with policies to limit confrontation and disruptions related to non-compliant employees.”