Vaccine hesitancy persists for millions of Americans, and increasing vaccination rates is a major concern for government and corporate leaders.
Multiple states have introduced vaccine lotteries that give newly vaccinated people a chance at a cash prize, and after recent guidance from the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it’s expected that many more companies will start offering incentives like cash, gift cards or other prizes.
And despite rampant misinformation on social media, the EEOC and other groups have repeatedly debunked the idea that it's against the law for companies to require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
We set out to understand the level of support American workers have for workplace-based vaccine requirements and what factors were related to support or opposition to vaccine mandates – here's what we found:
- Thirty-one percent of U.S. workers "strongly favor" companies requiring their workers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination; 20% "strongly oppose."
- More than 60% of people said they would comply with a workplace vaccine mandate without objection; 16% would submit but only after making their reservations known.
- Nearly three-quarters of those who aren't vaccinated with no plans to get the shot said no incentive, including cash, would be enough to convince them.
Workers more likely to support than oppose company vaccination mandates; 1 in 5 strongly oppose them
About 1 in 4 workers say they don't have strong feelings either way about companies mandating that their workers provide proof that they are vaccinated against the virus. And while 1 in 5 people say they're strongly against it, nearly one-third "strongly favor" such requirements, making it the most common response.
Worker support for employers requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination*
* Among those employed full-time
Younger workers were the most likely to have negative feelings about companies requiring their staff to provide proof of vaccination, but positive perceptions increased with age; additionally, women were five points more likely than men to oppose requirements.
Positive/negative feelings about employers requiring vaccine proof, by age*
Career level didn't have a big impact overall on positive or negative feelings, but top-level leaders were the most polarized group. Executives had the highest levels of both support and opposition to employer vaccine mandates (56% support it, 33% are opposed), potentially owing to the fact that they are the ones deciding what their company will do.
The single biggest factor was a person's current vaccine status, which is not surprising, considering their livelihood may depend on it.
Only 1% of those who don't plan to get vaccinated felt positively about companies requiring workers to submit proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19. Similarly, only 14% of worker
Positive/negative feelings about employers requiring vaccine proof, by current vaccination status*
|Feelings||Vaccinated||Planning to get vaccinated||Planning not to get vaccinated|
Interestingly, 17% of those who already have been vaccinated, the group presumably least likely to lose their jobs over the vaccine, oppose companies forcing their workers to prove they've been vaccinated.
More than 75% would comply with a shot mandate; 4% say they'd quit
Just over 60% of workers said if their employer required them to show proof they'd been vaccinated, they would comply without objection. Another 16% said they'd show proof but would object first. Asking to work from home and seeking a medical or religious exemption were both more popular than leaving their job.
Response to employer-required proof of vaccination
|Comply (with objection)||16%|
|Request an exemption based on medical or religious reasons||8%|
|Request to exclusively work from home||8%|
We gave workers a chance to enter their own response as to what they would do if required to prove they'd been vaccinated. Among the more novel responses was that they would fake vaccine documentation or that they would comply for this year but not in the future. With some research suggesting that COVID-19 boosters could be necessary, this is something companies will need to continue monitoring.
A couple of Americans indicated they believed it was against the law for their employer to ask about whether they'd gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. As we mentioned, authorities have repeatedly debunked this claim, which may trace back to a misunderstanding of the federal medical privacy law HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
"HIPAA only governs certain kinds of entities – your clinician, hospital or others in the healthcare sphere," said University of Michigan Medical Ethics Researcher Kayte Spector-Bagdady. "It does not apply to the average person or to a business outside healthcare. It doesn't give someone personal protection against ever having to disclose their health information."
Younger workers were the least likely to say they'd comply with a workplace vaccine mandate, and 8% said they'd quit instead. Still, two-thirds of this group said they would comply with the requirement.
Response to employer-required proof of vaccination, by age*
Top leaders were the most likely to say they'd walk away from their jobs if forced to submit proof they'd been vaccinated against COVID-19. Though it was a small percentage (11%), all other career levels were around the 4% mark for saying they'd quit if they had to give vaccine proof. Managerial-level workers were the most likely to say they would comply (83%).
Current vaccine status was influential, at least for those who aren't vaccinated. While a total of 91% of vaccinated workers said they'd comply, about 14% indicated they would first object. Only 2% of those who don't plan to get vaccinated said they would comply right away if their workplace mandated vaccinations.
Response to employer-required proof of vaccination, by age*
|Response||Vaccinated||Planning to get vaccinated||Planning not to get vaccinated|
Cash is the biggest potential incentive, but holdouts mostly unmoved
So, what incentives would be most likely to encourage those who have no plans to get the vaccine to change their minds? Among those who said they had no plans to get vaccinated, about 7% said a cash incentive of $100 would do the trick for them. Another 20% said a cash prize of more than $100 would convince them.
As for the others: What would convince them to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Those who have dug their heels in are likely to remain there. As one respondent put it when asked if they could be enticed to get the vaccine, "When pigs fly." Nearly three-quarters of this group said nothing would be effective at convincing them.
While people continue to be vaccinated, the rate at which they're getting the shots has slowed considerably over the past couple of months. With millions more administered doses needed to achieve herd immunity, our findings indicate companies will need to get creative in order to convince holdouts to get the shot.
We surveyed over 1,200 U.S. adults about their feelings regarding whether American workplaces should require their workers to get vaccinated.