To mandate or not? Connecticut employers are adopting different approaches to workforce COVID-19 vaccinations, whether or not they are impacted by the federal government's mandate.
Farmington-based Mott Corporation was well out in front of the federal mandate, first announced in September with OSHA releasing detailed employer and employee requirements earlier this month.
Over the summer, the manufacturer implemented a vaccine mandate for its 220 employees, setting an Oct. 1 deadline for compliance.
"That was a hard thing for us to do," said Mott Corporation chief operating officer Michael Listro. "Stand behind the decision and don’t waiver."
Private sector employees with 100 or more employees, federal contractors, and healthcare employees at Medicare and Medicaid-certified providers are impacted by the federal mandate, which requires compliance by Jan. 4, 2022.
'The Right Thing'
Mott's Listro said he did not regret acting well in advance of the federal mandate, calling the decision "the right thing to do" to keep employees safe, continue growing, and not cause delays for customers and clients.
Just three Mott employees resigned ahead of the deadline, while a fourth was terminated for non-compliance.
The other 216 employees got vaccinated after months of information sharing and conversations about vaccine efficacy and safety.
"At the end of the day, we had a really great outcome," Listro said.
“Not only have we been able to backfill those that chose not to [get vaccinated], we’re in a growth spurt."
While Modern Plastics, a small business that's part of a larger corporation, has yet to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, 99% of employees are now vaccinated.
“I said 'life is changing and we have to adapt and change with it,'” company president Bing Carbone said.
Carbone said it took persistence to educate and inform some employees.
About 60% of employees agreed to get vaccinated "quite quickly," but it took convincing to get the others on board.
Listro had a similar experience, with a strong majority immediately signing up for in-office vaccination clinics.
He said only 20% of Mott's employees needed more time and information before making the decision to get vaccinated.
Mott Corporation and Shelton-based Modern Plastics are not alone in their success with employee vaccinations.
CBIA's 2021 Survey of Connecticut Businesses, produced in collaboration with Marcum LLP, found at as of mid-September, 24% of companies had workforces that were 100% fully vaccinated.
Another 42% reported 75%-99% vaccination rates and 17% between 50%-74%.
Only 9% of surveyed employers had implemented a vaccine mandate at that time.
The survey also found that Connecticut employers are divided on government vaccine mandates, with 52% supportive, 37% opposed, and 11% unsure.
From the time vaccines were first made available, Listro and Carbone said they equipped employees with as much information as they could.
Carbone said he reached out to employees in various ways, leaving information in areas around the office, handing out materials, and sharing videos and emails.
"It was a combination of things because people absorb information in different ways," Carbone explained.
He also encouraged employees to talk with their own doctors.
Mott Corporation's Listro said having doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital who specialize in infectious diseases present and answer questions virtually was one of company's most successful educational moves.
“That 20% was really about education, question and answer, but we really tried to keep it fact-based,” he said.
Listro said the doctors shared very specific presentations about the COVID-19 vaccine, including what they knew and what questions were still out there. They even spoke about the risks.
He added that employees spent about a half hour after the presentation asking the doctors questions directly.
“We utilized that as the means with which to try to defuse a little bit of the resistance,” he noted.
The minority of Mott Corporation employees who did not want to get vaccinated spent a great deal of time talking with company leaders, explaining their concerns through emails, an electronic complaint forum, and in-person office meetings.
Listro said the conversations were crucial.
“It doesn’t need to change the decision you are going to make, but give them opportunities to share their concerns and listen and address them as appropriate,” he advised.
The company has a long standing culture of being open, so employees did feel comfortable voicing their concerns.
Some thought it was an intrusion on their rights or had false information.
"It boiled down more to people feeling as if they didn’t want to be told what to do with their body more so than specific, 'I can't take that drug because of this,'" Listro explained.
Carbone said he also spent a lot of time talking with employees and listening to their concerns.
“It’s just disappointing in some cases where you are getting these responses that utterly didn’t make sense at all,” he said.
Carbone said he kept up on reading, so when he asked employees why they were resistant, he was prepared to address their concerns.
“This is not a perfect situation, there are no perfect answers, this is a disease where information is changing,” he added.
Listro said employees often made the decision based solely on themselves, but he urges the vaccine is larger than that.
“At the end of the day, we need to be able to sustain our workforce, we need to be able to ship our products, we need to be able to meet our customer demands,” he said.
Listro said he encouraged employees to "think bigger." They have customers that rely on their services.
The company does benefit from their employee-owned business model.
Employees were losing more than their job if they walked out because of the vaccination mandate. They also risked losing part ownership of a successful business.
Carbone used a similar technique, in a different way. He reminded employees of the people in their life who could experience complicated and in some cases, fatal consequences if they got the virus.
“It was kind of a reality punch to say look, there are very big risks here,” he said.
Both companies have strong partnerships with local healthcare providers who helped facilitate employee vaccinations.
The Wheeler Clinic administered vaccines for employees onsite at Mott Corporation, allowing employees to get vaccinated without leaving the building.
Those clinics were held heading into the weekend so employees had time to recover.
Employees who were vaccinated elsewhere got two hours of paid time off to get the shot. They could also take up to two days off if they experienced strong side effects.
Modern Plastics is located near Griffin Healthcare, which hosted vaccine clinics, making it easy for employees to get vaccinated.
Carbone said he gave employees information about how to easily sign up at Griffin Healthcare to get their shot.
If employees were sick after getting vaccinated, they could take off the following day without penalty.