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June 2021

Vaccination Required for Return to Work? A Board Perspective

“88% of the 1,339 employers surveyed by Rockefeller Foundation and Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions said they planned to require or encourage their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The same survey found that 60% of employers said they will require proof of vaccination from employees, and 57% said they plan to incentivize their employees to be vaccinated.” (

With the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing free movement for fully vaccinated people without masks, organizations are slowly coming to terms with implementing new policies that ensure employees can go back to a safe and sustainable work environment. Having recently launched my Coffee Chats series featuring leading women executives discussing trending topics, this month’s conversation focused on the “Return to Work Policy with Fully Vaccinated Employees – A Board Members Perspective.”

Boards, as we know, are integral in defining the new normal work ecosystem as they drive and support the vision of the organization to align business strategy with an evolving workforce strategy. For example, an increasingly important topic boards (and larger society) must address is the vaccination policy. But the application of this policy may vary per industry, and boards need to determine what they will do—both socially and professionally—as employees return to work.

Our conversation started with a focus on the legality surrounding mandating the vaccine. Most lawyers agree that companies can legally require employees to be vaccinated only after the vaccine has received a full FDA approval—something that is still a couple of months away for adults and a whole year for children. Given that we are in the midst of year two of the pandemic – and a highly contagious period at that – it may bode well for organizations to mandate the vaccine, for a short period of time, for people willing to return to work.

Employers may also want to look at incentivizing employees and their families to get the vaccine. As an example, Cigna, a global health service company, announced a payout of $200 per employee to get vaccinated. Anthem Inc., a provider of health insurance in the US currently operating Blue Shield, has plans of offering financial incentives in 14 states. In addition, some firms are offering time off to get the shot or sponsoring vaccination clinics. There are many organizations that are reinventing the typical office with a hybrid business model.

But how does a hybrid business model work? Taking a look at the technology companies, those organizations—while not mandating the vaccine—are strongly encouraging, educating, and advising their employees to get the vaccine if and when they should return to work. In the event they do not get the jab, they will be required to wear a mask. With most of the tech companies based in India, the current epicenter of the second wave, the organizations there are doing everything possible for their employees. Some are even allowing employees to quarantine in their compound. Another example is the CEO of Accenture who has linked up with Marriott to use their hotels as isolation centers with oxygen supplies for their employees.

On the other hand, software companies have proven they can work remotely, and it isn’t easy to mandate people to come to the office. Firms are keeping an eye out on larger organizations like Microsoft to evaluate the next steps while also allowing their employees to decide for themselves depending on the situation in the respective country.

Another example is the return of in-person meetings. Board meetings seem to have taken a hybrid approach with a blend of virtual discussions taking place currently, before taking the next step of going to full in-person meetings. In addition, there are company boards that are limiting the number of board members allowed to attend the meetings in person and are even conducting COVID tests before entering the room.

The onset of the new policies has also paved the way to an increase in fake vaccine cards. There are certain mobile applications available today that allow you to sign up and validate your shots. It then generates a vaccine passport in your name. So, how do you really validate your proof of vaccination, particularly when a percentage of the population is still suffering from vaccine hesitancy?

Our conversation concluded with a discussion on the type of vaccines available and the development of mRNA technology. Pharma companies like Merck & Co and Johnson & Johnson are partnering with others to ensure global distribution of the vaccines, particularly in India and Africa. mRNA technology has massive opportunities available that might revolutionize the vaccine manufacturing process. It might just be as easy as walking into a CVS or Walgreens to get a custom-designed mRNA delivered shot – developed especially for you. There are also talks of injections that might change our genetic structure altogether, so we do not even contract the virus.

The post-pandemic world is almost here. We cannot see it yet, but we will soon. Until then, stay safe, get vaccinated, and let’s get through this together.