NBC 5 Responds

How North Texas Businesses Are Handling Return to Office, Vaccination Plans

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In January, NBC 5 Responds asked the question, “Can my boss require a COVID-19 vaccine?

Amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, NBC 5 Responds revisits that question and a few others that impact North Texas businesses and workers.

Dallas Regional Chamber Survey of Members

The increase in COVID-19 cases this summer prompted the Dallas Regional Chamber to survey its members in August about their plans.

“We love to capture what our members are thinking in this space in terms of timing for return, how to navigate a hybrid workplace, what safety precautions are they doing, what COVID-19 vaccination policies are they putting in place?" Dallas Regional Chamber Senior Vice President of Talent Attraction Jessica Heer said. "Our members want to know what their peers are doing across industries."

In its most recent Future of Work survey, 92% of employers that responded said they did not plan to mandate vaccines for employees. Though the question was posed before the FDA fully authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“It'll be interesting to see, from this point moving forward, what employers do outside of the healthcare space in terms of that mandate of vaccination,” Heer said.

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Though most are not mandating vaccines, 80% of companies told the DRC they are encouraging employee vaccinations by providing information, hosting town halls, even offering incentives and time off to vaccinate.

When it comes to return-to-office timing, 64% told DRC they are not changing their timing and 71% said they are or would offer a hybrid arrangement.

“Some are still planning to come back in September, but some are being flexible based on case counts and hospitalizations,” Heer said.

Heer said members were surveyed between Aug. 3-12. Seventy-seven of its member companies responded to the survey questions.

Return-to-Office Versus Work-From-Home

Steve Kardell, an attorney who specializes in employment law, said it’s the most common question he gets right now, "Do I have to go back to the office if I’m working from home?"

Kardell said the answer is yes.

“In other words, is that a terminable offense to refuse to go back? By and large, the answer is they pretty much have to,” Kardell said.

After the full FDA authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced his vaccine mandate ban will remain in place. It says no governmental entity can compel anyone to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. It does allow for exceptions in places like nursing homes.

Kardell said private companies have more leeway in setting their vaccination policies.

If you’re applying for a job, Kardell said it’s possible you may be asked about your vaccine status.

“Especially if they have a standard policy in connection with being vaccinated as being able to come to the workplace,” Kardell said.

A Small Business Owner’s Approach

When NBC 5 Responds last visited Joel Patterson at The Vested Group in Plano, he was feeling optimistic at the start of 2021.

“I was thinking by March, we should be good. Then it was by June, we should be good. Certainly, by August, right? Now with the delta variant and everything else, this year has been nothing but change,” Patterson said.

Patterson said his plans include encouraging, not requiring vaccinations and asking employees to come to the office a few days a week.

“You've got to stay flexible as an organization,” Patterson said.

“The better plan is just to be open, transparent and honest with your people and say, 'This is what we're planning on doing right now. We believe this is the best decision in the immediate future, but we always reserve the right to change because it's probably is going to in the next couple of months,'” Patterson added.

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