Delta Airlines has been making waves the last few months with their announcements of both an insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees and their policy of requiring all new hires to be vaccinated. In addition to Delta, plenty of other big-name brands are requiring proof of vaccination from their employees, including Twitter, Lyft, and The Washington Post.

And with the Biden administration’s recent mandate that all private companies with over 100 employees must also vaccinate their workforce, it would seem that these types of policies may soon become the norm. But what about small businesses with less than 100 employees? Will they also choose to enact vaccine mandates for new employees during a challenging labor shortage? We surveyed 1,000 U.S.-based small business owners to find out.

Majority of Small Businesses Will Require New Hire Vaccination

When asked if they will follow Delta’s lead and require new hires to be vaccinated, 59% of respondents said that they would, while 23% said that they were at least considering it. Just 19% of the small business owners we surveyed said they would not require new hires to be vaccinated, with the majority of these respondents being located in the Midwest and the South.

“…Before dealing with new hires, the first and foremost requirement for them is to be vaccinated. If they’re not vaccinated, there’s no possibility of hiring for the job,” stated Dawn Templeton, owner of Templeton Real Estate Group.

“Now [that the] vaccine has been FDA approved, I am requiring all my employees to be vaccinated,” agreed Yungi Chu, owner of Headset Plus. “Unless an employee has a medical reason why [they] cannot, it will not be an option. It’s the only way to keep every employee safe in the office and warehouse,” he explained.

3 out of 4 Small Business Owners Requiring Vaccinations Will Fire Employees for Not Complying

Interestingly enough, of the businesses that say they will require new hires to be vaccinated or are at least thinking of doing so, only 78% are requiring their current employees to get the vaccine. Of this 78%, 75% say that they would fire an employee for not complying with their vaccine requirement, assuming that the employee is abstaining for personal reasons and not health reasons.

“Now, there is a limit to how far I will press the [vaccine] mandate,” explained Nelson Sherwin, manager of PEO Companies. “Employees who do not want to get the vaccine but are still able to work remotely without any hiccups are welcome to stay on the team. If they are not able to do so, I will unfortunately have to let those employees go. At the end of the day, I’m just doing my best to keep my team safe…” he continued.

“Firing an employee in the midst of all the economic uncertainties everyone is going through seems like quite a harsh decision to me,” commented Caio Bersot, head of HR at Rank-it. “I have provided my employees with a deadline of one month to get vaccinated, meanwhile they will be allowed to work remotely from home.”

“If someone does not get vaccinated within the mentioned time, only then could action be taken against [them]. In the case of people with religious objections or disabilities, we are trying to approve work from home facilities until we can reach a better solution,” he continued.

Business Owners Determined Not to Relive the Past

This strict attitude toward vaccine compliance may be because small business owners have been burned in the past. 62% of those surveyed said that one or more of their current employees have tested positive for COVID, and 66% say that they have lost revenue due to employees taking time off after getting COVID.

“We [are] currently running our warehouse and office with a skeleton staff to prevent COVID-19, many are still working offsite,” continued Chu. “In the last 18 months, we were basically walking on eggshells to try to prevent an outbreak.”

34% of Businesses Not Requiring New Hire Vaccinations Point to the Labor Shortage

When asked if the current labor shortage had an effect on their decision to hire unvaccinated employees, 34% said that it did. Small businesses are having enough trouble as it is finding people to hire, so many business owners may be trying to avoid deterring any potential new applicants.

“I am requiring the new hires to be vaccinated, as they might cause significant health and safety threats to other individuals,” continued Bersot. “It is really quite difficult to maintain considering the labor shortage situation in the market, still I would not take a risk that would threaten the health and safety of the other employees,” he said.

Despite Differences in Vaccine Requirements, 79% Say They Will Provide PTO for Employees Who Test Positive

Whether they’re requiring vaccines for new hires, current employees, or no employees at all, 79% of small business owners say they will provide paid time off for employees to quarantine or go to the hospital after testing positive for COVID. With breakthrough cases on the rise, business owners coming from a variety of viewpoints say they will still treat employees who test positive with empathy, which will also allow them to preserve their jobs during a challenging labor shortage.

“We encourage our employees to get vaccinated but we do not put that as a compulsory requirement…We do not judge our employees on the basis of their vaccination status,” commented Samuel Darwin, president of LinkDoctor. “We do provide PTO to our employees. We give one week of PTO to those who test positive and we also reimburse their vaccine expenses,” he finished.

However, it is worth noting that for business owners not requiring new hire vaccinations, the amount who will provide PTO drops to 50%, though these are the employees who may need it most since they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID and needing to quarantine.

Majority of Business Owners Say Employees Are Worried About Unvaxxed Coworkers Complying

Of the total population surveyed, 65% of small business owners say their employees have expressed worries about coworkers not being vaccinated, while 67% say employees have shared worries about complying with virus prevention measures in the workplace.

However, these numbers decrease notably when just looking at businesses that aren’t requiring new hires to be vaccinated. In this case, only 33% say employees have expressed concerns about coworkers not being vaccinated, and only 36% say there have been concerns about virus prevention compliance in the workplace.

“I just don’t see how a business can operate fully in person and prevent a COVID outbreak or even death without all employees fully vaccinated,” added Chu. “I understand I may lose some employees because of this vaccine requirement, but it’s a requirement I must [make]. Any employee who does not comply will be let go.”

In spite of a labor shortage causing strain for small businesses, the majority of business owners plan to follow Delta’s lead and require all new employees to be vaccinated. A smaller percentage of respondents seem more content to take a backseat and allow employees to make their own decisions, by not requiring vaccinations but not providing paid time off to quarantine either.

The results show many business owners walking a fine line between the ability to hire new employees in a labor shortage, keep current employees safe, being sensitive to employee concerns, and remaining profitable by not repeating the mistakes of the past, though the definitions for each of these vary considerably among the surveyed population.

Survey Methodology

This survey was commissioned by Digital.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish between September 14 and September 15, 2021. In total, 1,000 participants in the U.S. were surveyed. Participants had to pass through two screening questions to ensure they were a business owner who employs less than 100 people, and that their employees work in person at least some of the time. The survey participants come from a variety of industries including finance, IT, education, construction, retail, and more.