Should We Require Ecommerce Workers To Be Vaccinated?

New podcast explores ecommerce & vaccines in 2021

It’s the one year anniversary to the day of when we recorded our first podcast talking about COVID and the impending lockdowns. Today, that scene seems hard to believe: five of us got together in a small studio, shared hugs and handshakes, and mused about how we thought a few weeks of disruption might feel.

What a year it’s been—a year that was incredibly challenging…and yet now we’re sitting on the precipice of incredible hope, with three approved vaccines being rolled out which can essentially prevent the most severe effects of the virus. I went back to the (virtual) studio to record a new podcast about how the vaccines represent a crucial leadership moment for our industry.

Is it worthwhile to encourage or even mandate a vaccine for employees? And how does vaccination connect to a thriving business?

For me, the answers are unequivocal. Public health and successful business are inextricably intertwined. Crises like these require business leaders in our space to protect and support workers, and to share that message with the public.

Legal Considerations and Workplace Protections

One of the first things you have to think about as a business owner or entrepreneur is what your legal obligations are. OSHA, the federal government regulations agency for workplace safety, gives us some guidelines. Namely, that businesses should provide vaccines when possible, and continue to practice safe behaviors regardless of vax status. But laws are slow to catch up with current events, so it is incumbent upon employers to take the lead.

You have fire extinguishers at your workplace. You have exit signs which show how to get out in case of an emergency. You have a first aid kit, and perhaps even a defibrillator on the wall. All of those things go into creating a safe workplace and are explicitly written into occupational safety code.

The code exists because employees expect and deserve their workplace to be safe. So when one of the known risks is potential COVID infection, and tools such as vaccines exist to mitigate those risks, why wouldn’t we pull out all the stops to help get every single worker vaccinated, for the benefit of all workers?  

Is it realistic for employers to require vaccination for in-person workers? Many kinds of health care are indeed mandated for many kinds of workers. It’s mandated at a restaurant for employees to wash their hands when using the restroom. Obviously, you’d want your surgeon to disinfect themself before they operate. It is totally legitimate for workplaces to set healthcare mandates depending on the scope and variety of work they do, plus the current conditions. Everywhere that it’s legal, I would encourage every business which has an in-person workforce to facilitate vaccination. In all cases, if what you are doing is what’s best for your employees, that’s ultimately going to be what’s best for your business.

Leadership That Transcends Legal Requirements

A leader takes a bird’s-eye assessment of all the facets of a business, states their opinions and intentions, and ultimately does what is right for all involved. Today, what’s “right” is to protect workers.

Is it a good idea then to give workers time off to get vaccinated, or perhaps offer other incentives? If you can afford to do it, absolutely—just as you might support activities like voting, or getting a flu shot. We have historically had “flu clinics” at Miva, and if someone couldn’t attend, we would give them time off to go get the flu shot at the location of their choice.

This type of program was arguably “selfish” on Miva’s behalf, because we didn’t want the flu running through the office and getting people sick and then in turn harming the business. An illness as serious as COVID might take an employee out of work for weeks or more, as well as put their coworkers and everyone’s families at risk. So making sure your employees get the protection of vaccination must be a priority. If the bottom line is a motivating factor, great, but this obviously becomes far more than a productivity solution, and more of a true moral obligation for leaders.

This leadership extends beyond the workforce and out into your public audience as well. Other tools at your disposal, such as your social media feed, can and should be used to encourage vaccination and other proactive pro-public health activities. In this particular case, with such a clear public good, you should absolutely take a public stand.

Strategic Leadership and the Larger Ecommerce Ecosystem

There’s a bigger topic here than workplace healthcare. It’s the difference between team thinking versus “every person for themself.” Now, I’m very pro-business. By that I mean I believe the entrepreneurial spirit is a great aspect of the human condition. I am supportive of entrepreneurs. And I can tell you, as someone who’s studied and been around this subject my whole life, there is a vein within entrepreneurialism of thinking “I’m doing it all myself.”

You’re responsible for your own success in many, many ways, but there is no such thing as living on an island, or succeeding on an island. If you run any ecommerce business, how many different people, partners, and external systems does your business interact with?

We see a system of grand interconnectedness around even the most mundane aspects of running an online shop. In order to sell something on the internet, you have to connect to a payment gateway, then you’re going to connect to a shipping carrier to get rates and print a label. You’re likely going to use a sales tax service. If you look at almost any ecommerce website, there are a dozen more services that they’re interconnecting with, whether it’s an ERP system, an inventory management system, or a marketing tool that’s helping drive recommendations and conversion. Each one of these is built and run by real people who we rely upon for every tiny essential function which businesses then offer their customers. All businesses rely on other businesses.

That concept is no different when it comes to public health, and our role in protecting our employees and customers. Every system and service touches every other system.

As businesses, we want a healthy public. Imagine if there were no one to buy your goods. Imagine if there were no one to deliver your goods. You have to have a healthy public to have a healthy business. I am ultimately a capitalist who believes in the profit motive, but part of the profit motive is understanding that a healthy and functioning society is the greater good—from a humanist perspective and from a financial perspective.

Our support systems have become so sophisticated that we take them for granted. Packages will arrive, payments will post, and customers will come to your website and find what they are looking for.

But really we are part of a greater interconnected ecosystem, not that different than a garden or the ocean. And so the health of the public—whether it be vaccination or any other issue which affects well-being–is a critical issue for leaders to take a stand on if they want their projects to thrive. As we roll into the new year and a hopefully post-COVID era, it’s valuable to remember that we all benefit from the well-being of others, and as digital professionals, are uniquely positioned to communicate that message in a way which is truly helpful.

“Should We Require Ecommerce Workers To Be Vaccinated?” Dragonproof Podcast Episode 35 

Listen to full audio on this topic here: https://apple.co/36gHY6v

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