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How firms are dealing with unvaccinated employees

From mailing educational material on vaccines to linking monetary perks, leaders are trying different ways to win over vaccine hesitant staff.

The argument of personal choice doesn’t hold water, especially at workplace, where one has to work collectively, say HR experts.
The argument of personal choice doesn’t hold water, especially at workplace, where one has to work collectively, say HR experts. (iStock)

Swati Bhargava was recently on a call with a colleague trying to understand why the person had not got the covid-19 vaccine yet. “I don’t believe it works,” the co-founder of CashKaro, a cashback and coupon site, was told by the worker. Despite Bhargava explaining to the employee the importance of getting the jab, she realised she wasn’t making much progress. “I decided I’m not going to break my head over it,” she says. Bhargava is hoping the 20% CashKaro staff members who have not taken the vaccine, or have any antibodies against the virus, will soon change their mind.

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To make a strong case for vaccination, CashKaro is allowing entry to the office only those employees who have been inoculated. “We are anyway allowing only 10-15 people at a time. So that protocol is still being followed. However, without vaccination you cannot enter the office now,” she says. While they can’t force people, Bhargava believes that at some point, when they do decide to return to the office completely, unvaccinated people won’t be allowed over safety concerns.

Since inoculation is not mandatory, organisations cannot force their staff to take the covid-19 vaccine. Last week, the Gauhati High Court stayed a notification issued by Arunachal Pradesh government that barred people from entering the state for work without a vaccination certificate. The court said the notification was discriminatory in nature.

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Companies are, however, finding different ways, including the offer of monetary perks, to push their employees to get vaccinated. At IPE Global, a social sector management consultancy, the 1,000-odd employees have been told to take both their vaccine shots by 15 October. While they have been asking staff to upload their vaccination status, about 10% of the employees have not got their jabs.

To ensure workers don’t take it lightly, the management recently decided to withhold incentives of those who haven’t got vaccinated unless it’s for medical reasons. “We are going to have a zero tolerance policy. As an individual you can decide on your own health. However, when you come to office, you are responsible for your colleagues’ health as well,” says Ashwajit Singh, managing director, IPE Global. Going forward, the organisation is looking to hire only those candidates who have been vaccinated.

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However, there is only so much an organisation can do if an employee insists on not taking the vaccine shots. “Misinformation, faith-based beliefs are some of the reasons why people are hesitant to take vaccines. At present, we have asked them not to come to office,” says Abhimanyu Gargesh, general manager, Enigmasoft Technologies. At the organisation, which has offices in Bengaluru and Goa, nearly 30% of its 152 employees have refused to get vaccinated. The human resource team is sending such employees emails on scientifically backed articles to dispel their doubts.

Meanwhile, those who have been vaccinated are also being sensitized to ensure they do not taunt or resort to micro-aggression against their non-vaccinated counterparts. “The tone I use is what my subordinates will pick and pass on. So, I have to be careful how I deal with this,” Gargesh says.

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According to Abhijit Bhaduri a leadership coach and the author of Dreamers And Unicorns, the argument about personal choice doesn’t hold water, especially at workplace, where one has to work collectively. “When a person’s individual choice impacts other employees’ health, safety and effectiveness, the employer can certainly lay down the norms that must be respected. Every company lists down its pre-conditions. In view of the pandemic it is reasonable to make getting vaccinated a pre-condition. The vaccines are the new minimum qualification” says Bhaduri.

Also Read: Do workplace mental health programmes go beyond lip service?

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