Editorial: Lawmakers shouldn’t act yet on employer vaccine mandates

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Editor’s note: This editorial was written and sent to the printer for IBJ’s Nov. 26 print issue before legislative leaders canceled a one-day session originally scheduled for Nov. 30 and referenced in this editorial.

We’ve said several times in this space that employers should have the ability to impose vaccine mandates or require regular COVID testing of employees who aren’t vaccinated.

Eli Lilly and Co., Indiana University Health, Anthem Inc. and many other local companies and health care organizations have imposed such mandates, while other companies have opted to keep vaccines voluntary. We support all of those decisions.

Regular readers know that we have opposed government-imposed vaccine mandates. We think employers are in the best position to know what will work best for their workplaces. In addition, the fact that some companies have imposed mandates while others haven’t leaves workers with choices.

That’s why we’ve expressed our frustration with the Biden administration’s attempt to impose a vaccine or testing mandate at companies with more than 100 employees. And it’s why we are just as frustrated with attempts to prohibit companies from requiring vaccines.

And so we urge thoughtful consideration of an Indiana legislative proposal to restrict how companies, schools and universities can impose vaccine and testing requirements.

The GOP-drafted language—which could be approved at an unusual, one-day meeting of the Legislature scheduled for Monday—does not prohibit vaccine mandates and testing requirements, as long as the policies include exemptions. But it does require companies to grant vaccine exemptions to employees who have had COVID and recovered, in addition to exemptions for religious and medical reasons, including pregnancy.

And it restricts testing for those employees with exemptions to no more than once per week—and requires the companies to pay for the tests.

Critics say those requirements are too restrictive, but we’re not sure that’s entirely true. Expensive? Probably. Unworkable? Probably not. And while the exemption for people who have had COVID seems like a headache, the language does require a doctor to certify the worker had the virus and recovered. So, it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

We’re worried less about the draft language—which has not yet been put in bill form—than we are about how lawmakers might change it before passage. And that’s a good reason not to rush the provision into law.

Legislative leaders proposed the language last week, when announcing they would convene the House and Senate for one day to vote on a bill that is aimed at ending Gov. Eric Holcomb’s emergency pandemic orders.

The legislation includes language that would make three administrative changes to allow the state to continue to collect millions of dollars in federal funding tied to the pandemic. Holcomb has said that, if those measures pass, he would let his emergency order—which he first put in place in March 2020 and has renewed repeatedly since—expire, something Republicans are eager for him to do.

Republicans plan to add the vaccine language to that bill.

But we urge lawmakers to delay action on vaccine mandates until the language can be more thoroughly debated. Stick to the administrative changes Holcomb says will keep federal money flowing to Indiana.•

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