This article outlines the journey we took that led us down the path of mandating COVID-19 vaccination for all our Staff, contractors, and vendors who use our onsite offices.
Our company was founded virtually. Nearly all of us live with disabilities, so it was the most practical way to work together. A remote office was also the only way to get all our rare talents, from across the miles, in one room. As time went on, we opened a small office in the Minneapolis North Loop. A growing number of our Staff enjoyed working there, and it allowed us to connect more easily with nearby clients. Many of us enjoyed the opportunity to be onsite when we could, and work from home as a default.
When COVID-19 came along, I called Sue Ann Rodriguez, our Director of Accessibility Services, into my onsite office. “We’re going entirely virtual next week,” I stated. Sue Ann’s reply was, “It won’t change a thing for us.”
But COVID did change things for us, as it did for many workplaces across the US. It introduced an employment minefield none of us ever dreamed possible: one in which putting health and safety first, became a political statement and a potential public relations nightmare.
During the official shut down, things hummed along quite well for WeCo. In fact, we found some awesome ways to connect better with our out-of-state employees. For instance, we staged an Academy Awards-style recognition event from our “WeCo Grand Zoom Theater” online. Many of us dressed up in suits and gowns to appear “on stage” via green screen (which was so successful, it’s now an annual event!).
Moving to Onsite
As COVID restrictions were lifted, we were offered the opportunity to rent an office space we could easily afford and expand into. The new digs would give our team some great perks, like access to a fitness facility and pool. Most of our Staff were telling us that they wanted or needed to work onsite. Busy homes with both partners/spouses teleworking in close quarters and kids attending school online, had taken a toll on their emotional wellbeing. So in April 2021, we began moving our office back out of storage, into our new suite. At first, I was the only person onsite, but as the month moved on, we knew we had to address the health and safety of more of our teams moving into the new space.
Vaccines and a Vulnerable Population
In a company where all but one person lives with a disability, mortality stares us in the face every day. Witnessing an airborne virus exacting a stunning toll on people with disabilities–saying we were worried about working in our onsite office, would be a gross understatement. Our Director of Operations, Kelli Ryan, and I, pondered how to allow people into the new space, safely. We turned this over and over between us, sometimes with texts early in the morning, and late at night on how we could solve this dilemma. Our kids were required to be vaccinated to enter school… could we make the same requirement for our physical office space?
We were reading that patients with intellectual disabilities were dying of COVID at an extremely alarming rate: six time higher than the rest of the population (Association of American Medical Colleges, April 2021) and data from the UK indicated that people with disabilities accounted for six in 10 deaths in that country in 2020 (BBC News, February 2021). Add to that, the variants that were causing new surges across the world.
Vaccines and Politics
And then there was the realization that our Staff Team wasn’t entirely on the same page. Kelli and I had just dealt with an uncomfortable interaction with a Staff member. They had announced to their teammates in a meeting that “COVID isn’t real,” and seemed to insinuate that people who received the vaccine were “misinformed liberals.”
As is standard practice, we posed the question to our Director group. The reply was overwhelmingly,
“I won’t feel comfortable coming into the office, even for meetings, unless I know everyone there is vaccinated.”
We then posed the question to our attorney:
“Can we mandate vaccination for onsite work attendance?”
“This is your business. You have every right to make decisions that protect the health and safety of your workers.”
It was at that point that Kelli and I got a little upset with ourselves. We caught ourselves obsessing about making the Staffer who made the “COVID isn’t real” comments, and went back and forth about how they might feel about company decisions, which drove us entirely off course regarding the health, safety and comfort, of others on our teams. Why would we even consider putting other people at risk for someone’s erroneous, politically charged, and quite honestly, mean-spirited, belief?
With the aid of our attorney and by speaking with a few other small organizations, we proceeded to craft a policy which requires all personnel, vendors and contractors who work in our offices to be fully vaccinated.
This is not only the responsible decision for us, but also the right one.
Read how WeCo How We Wrote and Launched Our Vaccine Policy
More on how WeCo works as a team of professionals with disabilities:
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