Executives Should Support Vaccinations. They Are Just Good Business
I didn’t wrestle with my own decision to get vaccinated. Against the horrifying Covid death toll, the remarkable 94% vaccine efficacy rate shows the obvious way forward for individuals.
However, as the CEO of a major e-commerce platform that employs more than 125 workers, with thousands of clients, I am also tasked with setting policy that affects a lot of other people.
Encouraging vaccination simply makes better strategic sense for any business facing system-wide unknowns, especially in the online/tech space. This is a moment for all e-commerce professionals to lead.
1. E-commerce’s unique relationship to Covid demands a stand on vaccination.
I’ve been campaigning for the benefits of e-commerce for 20 years, and watching its progress over time has been thrilling. Still, nothing prepared me for the way merchants showed up this past year. Online selling solidified its role as an economic engine, social force, and essential service. Positioned as a global antidote to Covid-era commerce issues, the priorities e-commerce sets regarding vaccination matter.
The vitality of our businesses affects millions of workers and the billions of consumers who rely on them.
2. Vaccine mandates are in line with legal safety requirements for workplaces.
Indoor Covid transmission is well documented. So, just one infection in a workplace risks the health of all workers. Vaccination is a reasonable precaution to this risk, and the law agrees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that workplaces may require vaccination, except in cases where medical disability or religious beliefs prevent it.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause — the golden rule for workplace safety — mandates that employers provide a work environment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Covid meets this definition, and we are lucky to have access to a clear remedy.
3. Strong workforce = strong business.
Even though internet-based companies might seem immune to community spread, they aren’t. In addition to some unavoidable physical interaction around operations, e-commerce workers come into regular contact with partner services like parcel delivery, warehouse, etc. The effects of any outbreak could impair the basic functions of the business, and if customers don’t get served properly, they will move on.
Pre-Covid, U.S. employers already paid $530 billion per year for slowdowns related to worker illness. For an e-commerce SMB getting by with narrow margins, healthcare-related costs can be an existential threat — more than enough reason for private businesses to require preventative vaccination.
4. Healthy public = healthy economy.
With a post-pandemic economic boom likely on its way, sellers need a public which is, to put it bluntly, ready to shop. A public that is free from Covid or the fear of Covid will be more inclined to keep participating in consumer activities.
As we saw after 9/11, strong consumer culture can be interpreted as a form of national resilience. This era has a very different context, and our economy will continue to rebound as the health threat declines. The astounding 39% e-commerce growth rate in Q1 of 2021 is an inverse mirror of the U.S. Covid case rate, which dropped from 385,000 new cases per week down to 23,000 over the same period. The harder we lean into vaccination, the better the chance that rapid e-commerce growth continues.
5. All-remote workforces should also be encouraged to vaccinate.
Our company transitioned to remote-first work in the spring of 2020, and like many tech businesses, we are not planning to return to primarily physical offices at this time. With a mostly remote workforce, it is true that individual infections do not pose a direct threat to other workers.
However, the potential effects of Covid on overall company productivity and culture would still be significant should any team member become ill. For this reason, we strongly encourage our WFH employees to get vaccinated. While we are not making this an explicit requirement, we are hoping for voluntary participation, and will require vaccination for any mandatory in-person work gatherings as they arise.
6. E-commerce brands can have real impact by advocating vaccination publicly.
For a long time, the common wisdom has been that brands should speak about their products and nothing else. But a public health crisis that affects the customers who use those products is absolutely fair game for the Twitter feed.
Our specific product is a technology platform rooted in the idea of teamwork to achieve common goals. Looking after the well-being of teams is in the DNA of our brand, so speaking out regarding vaccines feels appropriate and important. Messaging around Covid protection, delivered with grace and respect, can be an organic aspect of a company’s relevance to the real world and its service to that world.
7. The rights of a private business dovetail with higher obligations and goals.
The “no shirt, no shoes, no service” analogy has been repeatedly applied to mask/vaccine policy with good reason, as the core principle is exactly the same. A business, which must provide safe experiences under the law, exercises its freedom to set whatever policy is best for the sustainability of the business.
Beyond self-determinative entrepreneurship, and even beyond legal requirements, it’s important that our industry treat the vaccine issue as part of a much bigger story about our role in modern public life. As shown during the past year’s intense hardship, e-commerce has the power to leverage technology for the benefit of all consumers. It also has risen to be an economy-wide driver of manufacturing, distribution, and sales.
Therefore, e-commerce professionals must realize that we are now part of a bigger engine that drives public and economic welfare. If an individual company can nurture that welfare by asking its employees to get vaccinated, the cascading effects will ripple out and benefit all. There is no clearer move for an industry that has rapidly become a backbone of American society.
Rick Wilson is CEO of Miva.