CINCINNATI — Procter & Gamble Co. has joined the growing ranks of large publicly traded companies to announce vaccine mandates for employees, while its Cincinnati peers continue to favor incentives and education to boost vaccine rates.
The Cincinnati-based consumer products giant said its new policy is aimed at complying with “the anticipated standard” that is under development by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“P&G will require all U.S.-based employees to either (1) provide proof of COVID vaccination, (2) have a company-approved vaccine exemption in place, or (3) begin providing weekly COVID test results to the company, effective November 1, 2021,” wrote P&G spokesman Patrick Blair. “Regarding the exemptions, there is a dedicated sub-team working through the details. Both medical and religions exemptions are in scope.”
P&G is Cincinnati’s second-largest company, with $76 billion in annual revenue and 10,000 local employees. It joins Walmart, Walgreens, Google and Goldman Sachs on a list of at least 36 public companies to announce vaccine mandates for at least some of their employees.
Local hospital systems announced similar policies in early August.
More companies were expected to embrace mandates after President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 executive order directing OSHA to develop new rules requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing for an estimated 80 million workers nationwide.
“Some employers have used prizes, lotteries, time off work, any number of incentives to get employees vaccinated,” said Kelly Myers, managing partner of the Freking Myers & Reul law firm downtown. “Now as we’re getting down to the crunch where we’re left with people who are vaccine hesitant, employers are now starting to look at mandates and dis-incentives.”
Myers has been getting about a dozen calls a week since early September from workers worried about vaccine mandates. She tells them to “be cautious” because Ohio is an at-will employment state where workers can be terminated “for any reason or no reason” that isn’t discriminatory
“If your employer mandates the vaccine and you’re employed at will and you don’t have a legitimate medical or religious exemption, the employer can terminate you,” Myers said. “Request an exemption, if there is a legitimate exemption to request. If it’s denied, then you’ve got to have some tough conversations with your employer to see if some accommodations can be made. Can you work from home? Can you test? Can you mask?”
For employers, the trick in the next several months will be complying with the federal vaccine mandate requirements while keeping vaccine-hesitant workers happy.
“There is a tension between workplace safety and having your employees vaccinated and … morale and turnover,” Myers said.
The WCPO 9 I-Team surveyed Cincinnati’s largest employers and found a variety of approaches, but only one company willing to reveal its vaccination rate.
That was Western & Southern Financial Group Inc., Cincinnati’s third-largest company, with $8.1 billion in 2020 revenue and 2,200 local employees. CEO John Barrett credits a hefty bonus plan for lifting the life insurance and financial services company to a 76% vaccination rate.
“We gave every (full-time) employee in the company a thousand dollars, whether they were vaccinated or not. And we gave everyone who was vaccinated another thousand dollars,” Barrett said. “I think in the entire population, we lost one person to COVID. And that’s over 4,000 people” nationwide.
Barrett said the first thousand-dollar bonus was intended to thank employees “for helping us get through the pandemic” and make up for smaller raises in 2020.
“Through the first eight months of this year we’ve had the best year we’ve ever had,” B arrett said. “And we still have four months to go.”
The second bonus could make OSHA’s new rule a moot point, assuming every Western & Southern employee gets a jab before companies are required to impose mandates.
“You have until October 30 to get the vaccine,” Barrett said. “The guy at the local drug store said he’s seen a lot of our people getting the shot in the last couple weeks.”
P&G declined to provide a company-wide vaccination rate, only a description: “Our full vaccination rates of U.S.-based employees are significantly greater than that of the general population with many sites at or near 100%.”
American Financial Group Inc. said “the vast majority of our employees are vaccinated.” All other companies contacted by the I-Team declined to provide any detail.
Here’s a summary of the vaccine approaches described by Cincinnati’s largest companies:
The Kroger Co., Cincinnati’s largest company, with $132.5 billion in 2020 revenue and about 17,000 local employees, is “strongly encouraging” vaccination of customers and employees, spokeswoman Jenifer Moore wrote in an email to the I-Team.
“We are offering a one-time payment of $100 to those who receive all manufacturer-recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses,” Moore wrote. “We have partnered with the Biden Administration on several initiatives to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination in America, including our Community Immunity $5 million giveaway.”
Fifth Third Bancorp., Cincinnati’s fourth-largest company, with $7.4 billion in 2020 revenue and 7,000 local employees, provided “medical appointment time” away from work for 2021 vaccinations and “additional vaccination incentives” in its corporate wellness program, wrote spokesman Ed Loyd.
“We will be working to clearly understand the newly announced federal mandates - the expectations, the timing and to determine our next steps once the rules are final,” he added.
American Financial Group Inc. changed its Health Savings Account policies to incentivize vaccines. Those who aren’t vaccinated will not receive a company match in 2022.
“We have been offering wellness incentives to our employees for years and believe that doing so demonstrates the company’s significant investment in our employees’ health and well-being,” spokeswoman Diane Weidner wrote. “The Company now also requires employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to be eligible for its 2022 HSA match.”