The Bottom Line on What Not Getting Vaccinated Will Cost Unvaccinated Workers

Wherever you stand on the COVID-19 vaccination debate, there is little doubt that after January 4th the updated White House Guidelines around mandatory vaccinations will hit unvaccinated workers personal finances -whether they stay with their employer or quit.

With more than 745,000 Americans having died from COVID and over 70,000 new cases per day there is a lot of pressure to control the spread of the virus as people return to in-person working. While the majority of Americans have gotten vaccinated, there are still millions of unvaccinated American workers who will be adversely impacted by these new federal government rules.

Here is a summary of the key guidelines and potential financial impacts that the Labor Department via Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued for employers with over 100 employees (this includes part-time, remote and offsite workers).

  • Covered organizations must ensure that their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or that they test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week. Employers don’t need to pay for testing or provide testing to workers who decline the vaccine.
    • Cost Impact to the unvaccinated: Since your employer does not have to cover your testing, you could be paying $30 to $100 p/week just for testing. This is designed to push employees to get vaccinated, but if you are part of a union or your company collective bargaining agreements you may get relief here.
  • Paid leave for vaccination before Jan 4th. After that – unpaid or sick leave. In order to encourage vaccination employers must give employees paid time off to get vaccinated. This includes the time it takes to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
    • Cost Impact to the unvaccinated: After Jan 4th, if you don’t get or have a sick leave balance this could cost you up to 2 paid days. One day to get the vaccine and likely one day for recovery. At a $15 baseline wage this could be up to $240. The vaccine will continue to be free in the near term.
  • Mask-up. Employees who have not been fully vaccinated will have to wear a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes. This will not be a requirement for the vaccinated folks.
    • Cost Impact to the unvaccinated: Up to $25 p/month for buying masks

The overall cost for active unvaccinated workers could be over $200 p/month, mainly driven by the cost of testing. With thousands of employers and millions of employees potentially impacted by these OSHA guidelines, this is going to become a big issue next year as American’s head to the polls for mid-term elections.

While employers could face penalties of up to around $13,600 per violation, enforcing the above rules won’t be easy after January 4th as compliance is based on self reporting or formal complaints filed with OSHA.

Further, many conservative (mainly Republican) state leaders have have said they will fight these policies in court. However they likely won’t be able to limit the guidelines before January 4th as any federal work safety mandates on this topic will supersede state or local rules.

In a recent Kaiser survey, 40% of unvaccinated workers have said they would leave their job if getting the Covid-19 vaccine was mandated by their employer or if they were required to be tested for the virus weekly. These workers would not qualify for unemployment benefits either in most states.

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