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Employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccines on the legislative chopping block

A bill in the Wisconsin state legislature would prevent employers from requiring the COVID vaccine, but one business group say it limits flexibility.
Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 11:10 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A bill making its way through the Wisconsin state legislature would prevent employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine or mandating proof of vaccination when it comes to their employees. The bill passed the Assembly on March 23. Back in December, the federal government issued guidelines saying employers could require the vaccine.

Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, said according to a recent survey conducted by the Chamber, Madison-area businesses want their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Availability of vaccinations to the general public was a high priority, herd immunity was a high priority, and vaccination of the workforce were high priorities,” Brandon explained.

However, according to that same survey, less than 15 percent of local businesses plan to require it. Most of those are smaller businesses that depend on in-person foot traffic like retail, restaurants and entertainment venues, Brandon said.

“There’s a lot of unknown about what vaccinations are going to look like,” Brandon added.

A majority of local businesses—about 60 percent—will not mandate the shot, but Brandon said the state legislature’s effort to stop all employers from requiring the vaccine is not helpful.

“That limits our ability as employers to adapt and provide safe workspaces,” he said.

The bill now in the legislature would prevent employers from even asking for proof of vaccination. UW-Madison professor of management and human resources Jirs Meuris said that could make bringing people back to work in-person a challenge.

“You either didn’t get the vaccine, or we don’t know and we’re going to treat that as the same thing,” Meuris said of what businesses might do without information on whether their employees have received the vaccine.

The bill would prevent an employer from firing someone specifically because they decline the vaccine, but Meuris said they can still restrict you from the building, possibly leading to other problems.

“If that physical presence in the building is something that’s required of you to complete your job tasks, at that point, your employer might be able to say, well, you can’t do your job...so that could then be grounds for the employer letting me go anyway,” Meuris explained.

Meuris said it is difficult to see how businesses could go back to normal without information about their employees’ immunization status.

“I think businesses too are looking to try to get back to a somewhat normal or at least a new normal, and if that new normal includes getting people in the office, then the vaccine’s going to have to be part of that strategy to begin with,” he said.

According to Brandon, businesses need that flexibility and information to decide what is safest for their staff and customers.

“The top priority is a message of confidence and of hope and the vaccine very much is that message of hope,” Brandon said.

The bill still has to pass the Senate before it can head to Governor Tony Evers’ desk. NBC15 reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the bill, but did not receive a response.

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