President Biden’s vaccination mandate could be finalized as early as next week. But multiple states are already gearing up to block the rule.
In the meantime, different retailers and footwear companies across the U.S. await guidance on how to proceed with a vaccine requirement among staff, which could vary depending on their home states.
“We’re going to see a fraction of states that elect not to promulgate this executive order,” said Dr. Anthony Harris, MD, an advisor to the federal government and health consultant for multiple businesses.
Since Biden announced the mandate, which says that businesses with 100 or more employees must mandate vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 tests for employees, lawmakers from certain states have proposed legislation to prohibit it from going into effect. At the same time, some retail organizations have expressed concerns about their ability to see the mandate through.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will enforce the mandate, which means that any state with its own federally approved OSHA proxy can determine if and how it is enforced. About half U.S. states currently operate with this structure.
How states proceed will impact the companies and retailers based there. For example, Texas governor Greg Abbott on Monday banned vaccine requirements for all businesses and entities in Texas. As a result, Texas-based retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Academy Sports + Outdoors, J.C. Penney, and Tailored Brands could be in the middle of a struggle between federal and state jurisdiction. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Texas is one of the states under federal OSHA jurisdiction.
In a statement to FN, Neiman Marcus Group’s chief people and belonging officer Eric Severson said the company would follow a federal vaccine mandate if it were to go into effect.
“In the interest of protecting our associates and customers and preventing the spread of COVID, we will continue to require all associates to wear masks in the workplace and permit those whose jobs do not require in-person presence to work remotely,” Severson said. “The safety and welfare of our associates and customers is our top priority, and we’re committed to creating a welcoming environment where everyone feels like they belong.”
Tailored Brands and J.C. Penney declined to comment. Academy Sports + Outdoors did not return a request for comment.
In Arkansas, which houses Dillard’s, lawmakers are pursuing measures to allow people to opt-out of the vaccine. In Ohio, which houses DSW parent Designer Brands Inc., lawmakers are debating the requirement in a series of hearings.
In a statement to FN, DSW’s SVP of human resources Amy Jo Donohew said that the company is waiting for final guidance regarding the vaccine mandate.
“The health and safety of our associates are our top priorities,” Donohew said. “Like the rest of the industry, we await continued updates and guidance from the government so we may develop the appropriate procedures and support resources for our associates.”
Tennessee, home to Journeys parent Genesco Inc. and Indiana, home to Finish Line, are other states where challenges to the mandate are in progress. Genesco Inc. declined to comment. Finish Line and Dillard’s did not return requests for comment.
In states that do opt to enforce the mandate, mass quitting and walk-outs among retail staff are likely, according to some experts.
“It will pose a problem for those institutions or those private private employers that can’t operate without that workforce because we know the job market is already under a little bit of distress in terms of keeping the employee being fully employed,” said Harris, who works directly with employers that staff up to 100,000 workers.
Mass quitting would exacerbate an already threatening labor shortage across multiple industries, including retail. In August, 721,000 workers quit retail jobs.
Some companies, such as Nike, Walmart, and Saks Fifth Avenue, have already introduced independent vaccine mandates across their staff. Others have been more hesitant. As different states determine how to proceed with a vaccine mandate, the labor shortage will be an important factor in determining how to proceed.
“It’s very much in the forefront of their consideration as they move forward,” Harris said.