Nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) U.S. employers said they don’t expect their organization will return to the workplace and end coronavirus pandemic-related policies and programs until the second quarter of 2022, according to new a survey by Willis Towers Watson.

The survey, which tracked more than 900 American employers’ coronavirus pandemic reopening and vaccination plans, found only about a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents said they expected a return to the new normal in the first quarter of next year.

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By the fourth quarter of 2021, more than half (52 per cent) of employers said they could implement one or more vaccine mandate requirements in the workplace — a dramatic increase from the current 21 per cent. Specifically, nearly a third (29 per cent) of the respondents said they’re planning or considering making vaccination a requirement to gain access to the workplace and 21 per cent said they’re planning or considering vaccination as a condition of employment for all employees.

Additionally, the survey showed the number of employers that said they’ll track whether employees have been vaccinated is increasing, with 59 per cent noting they currently track their employees’ vaccination status and another 19 per cent saying they’re planning or considering doing so later this year. A majority (62 per cent) of respondents that already track vaccination status said they require proof of vaccination, such as completed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, while 36 per cent said they’ll rely on employees to self-report.

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“The Delta variant has made employers take new actions to keep their workers — and workplaces — safe and healthy,” said Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a press release. “We expect even more employers to institute vaccine mandates in the wake of FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine. New policies such as tracking workers’ vaccinations can improve safety but also bring additional administrative requirements. At the same time, employers will continue efforts to encourage vaccination and communicate regularly with employees.”

The survey also found 17 per cent of respondents are planning to offer financial incentives to their employees for getting vaccinated and another 14 per cent said they’re planning or considering taking this route. A mere two per cent said they currently offer a discount to vaccinated employees or impose a premium surcharge on unvaccinated employees, while another 18 per cent said they’re considering one or both approaches.

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As well, a majority (80 per cent) of employers said they require employees to wear masks indoors at any location, while 13 per cent are planning or considering doing so. And 75 per cent use workplace exposure tracing to alert employees to a potential exposure and just eight per cent said they’re planning or considering this option.

“We have reached a point in the pandemic where employers that have worked hard to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated are also considering approaches to make it more difficult for employees to remain unvaccinated,” said Levin-Scherz. “The one certainty right now is that employers will continue to adjust their plans through the remainder of 2021.”