Vaccinations: Whose Responsibility?

by Jim White, PhD

Kyrie Irving’s stance on vaccination stole the headlines. The story captivated basketball fans and observers alike: the Brooklyn Nets star, an employee of the NBA, was willing to forgo tens of millions of dollars in salary by opting not to “take the shot.”

Irving stood in solidarity with workers who, he said, are losing their livelihoods over COVID-19 vaccination mandates – a mandate shared nationwide. Employees should not “be forced” to receive the vaccine, Irving said. Most states disagree, with the recent notable exception of Texas.

All of this begs the question, what is an employer’s responsibility to the company when it comes to the vaccine?

In other areas of health and safety, the guidelines are clear: providing and maintaining a safe work environment for employees is required. Occupational safety acts around the world, from the United States to South Africa, stipulate that all employers must provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for their employees. In most developed countries, there is a standard framework of compliance for governing safety and health issues.

The head of the company is responsible for every employee in the workplace, even when appointing an individual to be in charge of health and safety protocol. Ultimately, he or she must ensure the welfare of all the workers in the enterprise.

That is the case for other safety protocols: workers often wear protective gear. Equipment is inspected and machinery supervised. Drugs and alcohol are generally banned because they pose a threat. In every workplace, steps are taken to prevent accidents, fire, and other hazards.

Why shouldn’t employers, even those who aren’t mandated by the state, have protocols in place to prevent the spread of a potentially fatal virus?

The federal government requires federal employees and contractors, health care workers and those in high-risk congregate settings, workers in preschool through Grade 12, colleges and universities, and all workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to be fully vaccinated or subject to weekly COVID-19 testing. On November 1st, workers in all child care facilities will be added to the list.

In Irving’s case, his employer – the Nets – barred him from playing or practicing until he was eligible per policy to be a “full participant” – that is, until he received his vaccine. In the NBA, Irving is the exception; within that organization, the vaccination rate is over 90%, more than the nation’s average. In New York City, teens and adults must be vaccinated to enter most sports facilities.[1]

Why maintain a vaccination protocol in the workplace? Or anywhere else, for that matter? Clearly, poor health among individuals impacts the bottom line. Employee absences soar. Productivity declines. Morale plunges. The entire economy begins to crumble, which is exactly what we saw throughout the pandemic.

In future, it will be interesting to see whether employees hold their employers liable for not requiring vaccinations in the workplace.

In regions with low vaccination rates, the very contagious Delta variant spreads fast. In those regions, hospitals are overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients. This leaves few resources – doctors, nurses, bed – for patients with other medical problems.

As Michael Jordan commented on the Kyrie Irving saga, “Whoever stays healthy, whoever can battle the COVID-19 issues that they may have in the course of the year, it’s gonna give that team the best chance.”

The same is true for the workplace and beyond: staying healthy offers us the best chance of success.

Take the shot.

Jim White, PhD, is an Arizona resident and chairman and CEO of Arizona-based Post Harvest Technologies and Growers Ice Company, CEO of PHT Investment Group GP LLC, and founder and president of JL White International. He is the bestselling author of five books, including Broken America: Ten Guiding Principles to Restore America and Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds. Throughout his career, he has bought, expanded, and sold 23 companies operating in 44 countries. He holds a B.S. in civil engineering, an MBA, and a doctorate in psychology and organizational behavior. He shares his insights and critical thinking skills in a webcast series, Healing America with Dr. Jim White, in which he explores the many issues and challenges faced by our nation – and how to fix them.

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