Employers are concerned about resistance and the ongoing labor shortage. 

Restaurants are less likely to require vaccination than other employers, according to recent data. 

A new Littler Mendelson survey of 1,600 employers found only 9 percent of respondents in retail and hospitality either require or plan to require vaccination compared to 21 percent of all survey takers. 

Three major cities—New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans—have already mandated vaccination for indoor dining customers and employees. San Francisco requires both vaccine doses, and New Orleans offers the option of a recent negative COVID test.

There are many reasons for the reluctance from restaurant employers. Eighty percent of employers in retail/hospitality said they were worried about resistance from employees who are not in a protected category, but refuse to get vaccinated. This was slightly higher than the overall consensus, which was 75 percent.

Employee morale was also cited as a concern. The survey revealed that 73 percent in retail and hospitality are worried about the impact on their company’s culture if a vaccine mandate went in place, compared to 68 percent of all respondents.

The labor shortage is playing a role, as well. Of those in the retail and hospitality industry, 69 percent cited loss of staff and difficulty operating as a major concern in enacting a vaccine requirement versus just 60 percent of all employers.

READ MORE: New Report: 24 Actionable Ways to Beat the Labor Shortage

Danny Meyer, leader of Union Square Hospitality Group, addressed the labor concern when he announced in late July his restaurants would require dine-in customers and employees to be vaccinated. He told CNBC at the time that he’s willing to bet a large number of workers would rather enter a safer workforce. 

“The restaurant industry from the very beginning has stepped up,” Meyer said. “They’ve stepped up before we had vaccinations. They stepped up in very dangerous situations all last year serving people indoors, outdoors, etc. throughout the country. And I think we have a responsibility within our industry—which is the largest aggregate employer of any industry in the country—to show America why we have always been dedicated to hygiene.”

Restaurants have already resorted to legal resources to fight vaccine mandates passed down from government. Operators in New York City recently filed a lawsuit arguing that a vaccine mandate would hurt their “business, life savings and livelihood.”

Still, many employers are considering a vaccine mandate because of recent COVID cases. The Littler survey found 63 percent of all employers are encouraging, but not requiring vaccination, but 46 percent are more strongly considering a mandate because of rising cases. Only 22 percent of employers said they have firmly decided not to issue a vaccination requirement.

In January, a similar survey from Littler found that less than 10 percent of employers were either requiring vaccination or planning to implement a mandate. Fast forward to August, that number has more than doubled to 21 percent. That further breaks down to 5 percent currently requiring vaccination, 8 percent planning to mandate full vaccination by a certain date, and 8 percent mandating or planning to mandate vaccination for a certain subset of individuals (i.e. those who attend meetings or interact with customers, among other groups).

The consequences for employees who do not receive a vaccine will vary by employer. The survey found 33 percent of employers would terminate employees if they refuse to be vaccinated. But 35 percent would allow regular COVID testing in lieu of vaccination. Meanwhile, 14 percent said employees would be fired if they are not either fully vaccinated or regularly tested.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to setting workplace vaccination policies,” said Devjani Mishra, a leader of Littler’s COVID-19 Task Force and co-leader of the firm’s Vaccination Working Group, in a statement. “Employers need to gather the type of information that would guide any employment-related decision, including determining the number of workers who already have been vaccinated, understanding workforce sentiment, addressing and removing obstacles to vaccination, evaluating industry trends, and accounting for public safety and health policies and infection rates in their particular geographies.”

Consumer Trends, Feature