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How Biden's New Vaccine Mandate Might Create Workplace Tension

Virus Outbreak office cubicle coronavirus working work space business company employee
Steven Senne
Architectural designer Erica Shannon, front, works at a computer as accounting manager Andrea Clark, top, speaks with a colleague at the design firm Bergmeyer, Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

Office politics might get a little dicey following President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which stipulates that people who work at companies with more than 100 employees must get vaccinated, or submit to weekly testing.

This policy will impact an estimated 100 million Americans.

It’s not clear when the rule will be implemented, though it seems to place a burden directly on the shoulders of employers. Human resource departments might soon face the ire of workers who do not want to be vaccinated.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Dave Lassman of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy said companies will need to “keep their ear to the ground.”

“This kind of thing can blow up, right? People can get really angry and become very unproductive. They can walk out of work,” said Lassman, who specializes in leadership and organizational culture change. “Some people may say, ‘You know, I didn’t get vaccinated because of my views and I’m being harassed at work.’”

The Biden administration has not said if the mandate will apply to those who work from home, though it will be under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which has the power to fine employers for unsafe workplace conditions.

Though the rollout and enforcement of the policy might be a headache for some, the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Mark Roberts said it will lower the coronavirus transmission rate if it's successfully implemented.

“We have to remember that herd immunity is a local concept,” said Roberts, who heads Pitt’s Public Health Dynamics Laboratory. “It doesn’t matter if 90% of the people in your state are vaccinated. If only 50% of the people in your workplace are vaccinated, you still have a very high chance of getting sick.”

Roberts said a sufficient vaccination rate to snuff out the highly infectious delta strain might be between 75% and 85%.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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