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A Federal Vaccine Mandate Could Worsen Labor Shortages Across Retail

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Friday to determine if the Biden administration can enforce a vaccine-or-testing requirement for large employers as well as a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers.

If held up, the rule would require companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly tests across all staff.

According to surveys and experts, a federal vaccine mandate could exacerbate existing labor shortages across the industry for retailers who already have a shrinking pool of talent to choose from. A record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November at a rate of 3%. In retail, about 686,000 quit their jobs, a rate of 4.4%. Also in November, retail employment declined by 20,000 jobs across general merchandise stores, clothing accessories stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores.

“Right now, we simply are already strapped for employees,” said Edwin Egee, the National Retail Federation’s VP of government relations and workforce development. “Our guys are definitely scared about it from a workforce retention perspective.”

According to a September study from Goldman Sachs, about 7 million U.S. workers have reported that they will not get vaccinated, even with a mandate, which would negatively impact hiring. According to a survey from Qualtrics,, 44% of employees say they would consider leaving their jobs if vaccines were mandated and 23% would strongly consider leaving.

Whether or not the federal mandate stands up in court, various companies like Nike and Under Armour have already implemented their own vaccine mandates and guidelines. This week, Macy’s said all store and office-based employees must disclose their vaccination status in an online platform by Jan. 16.

The hope is that these mandates do not backfire on retailers that are already struggling to staff their stores.

“Many employers are walking a fine line between ensuring a safe environment for workers and customers, while not alienating and perhaps even losing staff by requiring proof of vaccination,” said Gary Raines, a chief economist with the Footwear Distributers and Retailers of America (FDRA).

According to an industry survey from FDRA released in September, 38% of company leaders said they were considering their own vaccine mandate while 40% said they would not. Similarly, in results from a December Gartner survey, which polled over 200 executive leaders across multiple industries, almost half of respondents said they are implementing a vaccine mandate for employees.

Anecdotally, FDRA said it has seen reports of employers struggling to fill vacant roles after firing unvaccinated employees.

“I think retailers are trying to get out ahead of the federal mandate no matter the outcome of the legal challenges,” said Matt Priest, president and CEO of FDRA. Others, he added, are opting for a “wait-and-see approach” to mitigate potential hiring issues.

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