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Most big employers say they are requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers

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Most large U.S. employers say they now require, or plan to mandate, that their workers get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new survey of more than 500 companies by corporate advisory firm Willis Towers Watson. 

The survey comes as the Biden administration's new rule about workplace vaccinations remains in limbo. Under the regulation, companies with 100 or more employees must require workers to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for the disease. 

Implementation of the emergency standard is currently on hold after a federal appeals court earlier this month reaffirmed an earlier temporary halt on the vaccine rule and ordered the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to stop enforcing or implementing the regulation. 

The Willis Towers Watson survey sheds light on how large companies are approaching COVID-19 vaccinations amid challenges to the Biden rule, which has been the target of lawsuits from at least 11 states over its constitutionality. Nearly 6 in 10 companies indicated that they either already require COVID-19 shots for employees or plan to implement such a requirement, according to the firm's findings. Yet roughly a third of respondents said they will move forward with a vaccine mandate only if an Ohio district court upholds the OHSA rule.

Only about 7% of businesses said they plan to require vaccines regardless of what happens with the OSHA rule, while another 18% currently require the shot, the survey found. More than 8 in 10 businesses said they plan to offer regular COVID-19 testing to employees. About 3 in 10 businesses said they don't plan to require vaccinations, while 1 in 10 are undecided, the survey found.

Despite the uncertainty around the OSHA vaccine rule, legal experts have urged companies to move forward with meeting its requirements. That's partly because businesses may face costly fines if the 490-page regulation goes into effect and they are caught unprepared. Willis Towers Watson said it is also recommending that companies plan on implementing the vaccine rule. 

"Despite the current holding pattern pending the court rulings, we advise employers to proceed with plans to implement the mandate as well as other efforts to protect their workers," said Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement. 

The study, which was conducted from November 12 - 18, polled 543 U.S. employers with a combined 5.2 million workers. Each of the employers that participated in the study had more than 100 workers — the group that will be required to adhere to the OSHA rule if it moves forward.

Appeals court halts Biden COVID-19 vaccine rule for large companies 00:30

Some employers have expressed concern that workers who are opposed to the vaccinations may quit if the OHSA rule is enforced. New Hampshire manufacturing owner Kathy Garfield, expressed concern that some vaccine-wary workers may depart for smaller businesses that aren't subject to the same regulation. Garfied called the OSHA rule a "crushing blow to employers." 

But few employers with vaccine mandates — only 3% — said they had seen a spike in resignations, according to the Willis Watson Towers survey. Even so, one-third of businesses planning mandates told Willis Watson Towers they were worried about the possibility that some employees could leave. 

About 5% of unvaccinated workers said in a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation that they would quit their job due to a COVID-19 shot requirement by their employer. That group represents just 1% of all U.S. adults, the Kaiser survey noted. 

Some employers say they see an upside to a vaccination requirement. Almost half of employers surveyed said they believe it could help recruit and retain workers. 

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