Businesses navigating vaccine requirements after FDA Pfizer approval

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(ABC 6 News) – President Joe Biden is urging private businesses to require vaccinations after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 on Monday.

Government sectors including the Pentagon, the VA, and some schools, including the University of Minnesota, are requiring them after the announcement.

The approval could give employers more confidence in their mandates but others may not choose to yet to avoid conflict and lose staff when labor is already short.

“Any kind of enforcement can sometimes result in conflicts,” Fred Gommels, Blue Moon Ballroom owner said.

His venue in Rochester hosts dance lessons, weddings, and various receptions. Gommels said he’s hopeful FDA approval will push more vaccinations overall.

“Hopefully, those that maybe were on the edge will now have the confidence to simply go forward and get vaccinated,” Gommels said.

But other businesses, like the Counterpoint store located nearby the Mayo Clinic, have had staffing vaccination rules and other safety protocols like masking already in place.

“Staying consistent is the best thing to do and to be safe,” owner Carol Bitton said.

She said the policies are necessary for her business because many of her customers are Mayo Clinic patients.

And if she herself or her staff get sick, “I am worried because I need to close the store,” Bitton said. “That’s a loss of revenue.”

Reluctant employers in private businesses may be wondering if they can legally enforce a rule like this. The answer is almost always.

“Businesses have been doing it a long time or certain businesses have,” Attorney Steven Hovey with Hoversten, Johnson, Beckmann & Hovey, LLP in Austin, Minn., said.

Hovey said employees may ask for medical and religious exemptions. The employer must then try to accommodate those situations. He said reasonable accommodations in most cases look like routine COVID-19 testing from unvaccinated staff members in exchange.

Prior to the approval, Hovey said employers have been providing incentives like cash or other benefits to encourage vaccinations. In other cases, employers may offer disincentives by removing disability plan benefits for infected individuals.

"The ultimate one of course is to say, ‘If you’re not vaccinated, then you can’t work here,’" Hovey said.

Health officials are pushing for more Americans to get vaccinated to drive cases of the highly transmissible delta variant down.

Despite another lingering uncertainty, local business owners said they’ll keep staying resilient after all the sacrifices they’ve made.

“We’re just going to do everything within our means to keep things going,” Gommels said.

Employers have gotten pushback for their vaccine mandates but the FDA approval could help justify their rules.

Three out of ten unvaccinated people said they’re more likely to get the vaccine with the full approval, according to a health study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.