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Retail Workers are Concerned About Returning to Work with Unvaccinated Co-Workers and Customers and it will Impact Hiring: Survey

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By Suzanne Sears

With case counts rising across the country and with the more transmissible and deadlier Delta variant, retailers can no longer dodge the issue of vaccination standards.

In July 2021, Best Retail Careers International Inc. in partnership with Retail Insider conducted a survey with hundreds of responses about how retail employees feel about return to work and vaccines. The findings were very interesting.

Retail is eager to open fully. Retail workers are eager to get back to work except 68% of them are worried about returning to work with unvaccinated co-workers and customers. It’s such a big issue many are delaying making themselves available for rehire and retailers are in a near panic to find staff. It really isn’t the availability of CERB type funding and a laziness to work. The core issue is fear. The longer this pandemic goes on, the more resistant people are to accept front-line jobs.

HOW DO EMPLOYERS COPE WITH THIS NEW REALITY?

The law says employers have to provide a safe environment in every way, but it has stopped short of demanding vaccination proof. As more and more jurisdictions globally are implementing mandatory proof of vaccination for public facing jobs, Canada is stuck in limbo with a fear of igniting political strife over the issue. We have New York City jumping right in: no vaccination = no entry to restaurants, clubs, theatres, or any other public arena.

We have Alberta tossing open the doors with its ‘let’s see what happens’ policies. We have British Columbia only slightly more restricted while we have Quebec leading the charge with vaccination passports. What’s missing is leadership at the Federal and Provincial level that is consistent across the country about vaccination status.

HOW DOES THIS TRANSLATE OVERALL?

Nearly every poll from every source indicates that the Canadian public wants protection from COVID-19. They want to know they are safe inside stores. They want vaccinated staff. The public wants it even more than the workers want it. The weak job gain in July of only 94,000 positions isn’t no jobs. It is people refusing to return to work.

Retail cannot avoid the policy issue any longer. The law will say you can’t force people to get vaccinated. Fine. However, what are the rules on terminating people who are unvaccinated? It’s a tough call. The obvious solution is to implement a policy of 100% vaccinated for all new hires and give existing staff a window to comply as well.

Could a business get sued? Possibly. Is it likely? Not really. COVID is changing so rapidly by the time a wrongful termination case gets to court, we may well have mandatory vaccination rules in place.

The primary issue retailers have to face is creating a clear and sensible COVID workplace policy. Get creative — give rewards for vaccination. Continue the mask mandate with or without government approval. Talk to your employees or potential ones, and ask the same survey questions we did—and implement policy that speaks to their concerns. 

At stake is the restoration of retail sales as we knew them. The longer staff stay away, the worse those numbers will be. Retailers must not sit back and wait for governments to create their policies. If there was ever a time for retail to take a leadership position, it is now. Find your best solution and make it public. Attracting new staff will be easier if they know your policy and how you intend to keep people safe in your stores. 

For more information on our survey or how we can help with retail staffing requirements, please contact Suzanne Sears at suzanne@brcareers.com

*Partner content. To work with Retail Insider, email: craig@retail-insider.com

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