United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby is on a media tour extolling the success of its mandatory vaccination policy, which in just seven weeks has resulted in vaccination of 99.7% of its 67,000 US employees. As for the remaining 232 employees, the termination process has begun.

United’s approach is decisive and firm and brings the airline in compliance with President Biden’s executive order requiring vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing at US businesses with 100-plus employees. These federal requirements have been met with conflicting state-level requirements in Texas, Montana, and 10 others, banning vaccination mandates and leaving businesses in what some perceive as a catch-22. Most large businesses, however, have taken the position that federal law supersedes state and local laws, and mandates will continue to be upheld by the courts as they have been for over a hundred years.

As organizations plan for various phases of reopening, or support those employees that never left, leaders and executives will need to decide on what degree of vaccination mandate makes sense for them. Whether it’s the carrot (financial and/or time-off incentives) that companies like Walmart, ALDI, Chobani are offering, the stick (unpaid leave or termination) that businesses such as Kaiser Permanente, Novant Health, and United Airlines are employing, or something in between, the key vaccination mandate conundrum is to MAKE A DECISION, because failing to do so constitutes a risk in itself!

In our latest research, The Business Case For Vaccination Mandates, we explore the risks and considerations of both action and inaction on vaccine mandates in your 2022 back-to-office planning. The key is understanding that any decision you make is bound to elicit a positive reaction, even relief, in some and enrage others — and comes with a myriad of risks to operations, employee morale, brand reputation, and customer-values alignment. Ultimately, mandates will continue to be a hot-button issue, and this report provides guidance for making the decision that’s best for your firm, which requires you to:

  • Balance viral spread with employee sentiment. Before creating vaccination policies, gauge employee sentiment. Today, more than half of Americans support vaccination mandates, but as new variants emerge and spread increases, health and safety concerns could win over employee hesitancy. With the “great resignation” continuing, employee attrition is a concern — some is because of employees who don’t want to comply, while others will move on because you didn’t enforce a mandate.
  • Weigh the regulations from a federal and local perspective. As federal and state lawmakers continue to spar on the lawfulness of vaccine mandates, do your research and the risk assessment for what it means to be noncompliant from a financial, operational, and reputational perspective.
  • Keep an eye on FDA and CDC decisions. With Moderna and Johnson & Johnson working toward full FDA approval, and Pfizer weeks away from emergency-use authorization for children ages 2–11, vaccine hesitancy may start to decline, paving the way for frictionless rollout.
  • If you mandate, apply context. Not all mandates are the same, and firms will need to choose whether to apply the same requirements universally, whether to make them location-specific, and whether self-attestation is sufficient. Each decision must be laid out transparently and empathetically to your employees, especially the hard decisions, to get them on board with your strategy.

We invite clients to read the full report here: The Business Case For Vaccination Mandates

Alla Valente is a senior analyst at Forrester serving security and risk professionals.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst on Forrester’s future-of-work team.