From the NFL to federal workers, vaccine mandates are becoming increasingly common as America grapples with renewed community spread of COVID-19 as the country’s economic reopening continues.
Campaigns and consulting firms will have their own tough calls to make. While many firms have told C&E they planned to move more workers back into the office when the summer ends, they’ll now have to decide whether to mandate their employees get vaccinated. Campaigns, meanwhile, will not only have to grapple with that question, they’ll also have to navigate the politics of how a vaccine mandate for their staffers could impact their own races.
“I think the real question is whether consultants or campaigns will face a political problem if they enact such a requirement— which of course depends on how their clients, party, voters react,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan advocacy group. “My reaction is that current EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] guidance allows any private employer to require employees to be vaccinated, provided it makes appropriate accommodation for religious or medical inability to be vaccinated — such as working remotely.
“So I do not see a legal problem with such a requirement — the courts I have seen which have considered such requirements have upheld them so far.”
Attorney Jason Torchinsky, a partner at HVJT Consulting, believes the law isn’t as clear cut on whether employers, political or non-political, can mandate vaccinations.
“I think there is some disagreement at the moment among lawyers over the legality of COVID vaccine mandates by employers, but we will see this play out over the next few weeks in some real ways. I think that [at] the moment there’s some uncertainty,” he told C&E. “At this point, I’d recommend that any campaign thinking about it see what plays out from others over the next couple of weeks.
“It seems that more government entities and more private employers are going to be requiring vaccination, and I am certain we will see one or more challenges to these rules. If a campaign wanted to lead on the vanguard of this and had an employee object and go to court, it could be a very costly endeavor.”
Vaccination status is coming up during the preliminary hiring process with potential consulting firm recruits, according to Chris Jones, owner of PoliTemps, a political and public affairs staffing agency based in DC.
“There’s nothing illegal about asking your employees or contract staff to be vaccinated. If there are objections, employees have to state them on religious grounds,” he said.
Jones added that none of his clients, which include consulting and polling firms as well as advocacy groups, “have come out and said, ‘We need them to be vaccinated.’ But we’re getting the hint that they’re strongly suggesting it — if the assignment is on-site.”
As for a vaccine mandate, Jones thinks it’s increasingly likely: “We potentially see it heading that way because of the uptick in cases.”
Now, when Jones and his team conduct interviews with potential recruits for a client, they do ask that if the candidate comes into the office that he or she get vaccinated.
“I’ve found that it’s something the junior political job seekers know that it’s part of the checklist they need to be competitive in the workplace — that goes for Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “They know they have to check that box. It’s like a skill set: resume, done. Hair cut, done. Vaccination, done.”