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NY raises alarms over job turnover following vaccine mandate

New York's enforcement of a vaccine mandate in healthcare offers an early indication of the job turnover that may come in other industries.

President Biden's planned vaccine mandate has employers worried about its impact on job turnover and it could create a crisis in New York's healthcare industry.

On Monday, New York's vaccine mandate for hospital and nursing home employees took effect. Out of 450,000 hospital employees, 84% are vaccinated, meaning 72,000 employees are not vaccinated. There are also 175,000 adult daycare and nursing home workers, with vaccination rates ranging from 77% to 81%, according to state data.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is considering calling medical help from the National Guard and federal medical assistance teams.  

Hochul also asked U.S. officials about expediting visas for nurses. She has contacted the State Department to "talk about the opportunity we might have in freeing up the visa system to have some temporary workers come from places like the Philippines," she said at a press conference last week. 

What's happening in New York may be an early indication of the job turnover risk once the federal vaccine mandate fully kicks in. President Biden wants firms with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing. The requirements will be official once the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues the rules. 

It's not just the healthcare industry that's worried about the vaccine mandate's impact on job turnover. Gartner reported Friday that nearly 70% of businesses are worried that a vaccine mandate will spur employee job turnover due to resignations or terminations. It surveyed 272 legal, compliance and H.R. executives.

Immigration and nursing

But immigration isn't a quick fix to job turnover, especially in nursing. 

To gain entry to the U.S., foreign nurses need to have a job offer and then complete a vetting process, including written and spoken English fluency. They must also pass U.S. nursing licensing exams, said former U.S. Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.), who chaired the U.S. House Immigration Subcommittee and helped write the 1990 immigration law that governs the programs.

The entire hiring process, starting with an employer's recruiting of the nursing candidate, can take two to three years, Morrison said. But once completed, the nurse is eligible for an employment-based work visa or green card. 

"You can't turn the spigot on and off," Morrison said, of the volume of nurses who can come into the U.S. The immigration system can handle about 1,000 visas for nurses a month, he said. Even if Congress increases the supply of visas for nurses and doctors, something a bipartisan group of lawmakers seeks, he said it wouldn't fix the immediate problem.

"People who don't want to be vaccinated probably shouldn't be working with patients," Morrison said. But medical workers forced to leave their jobs "is probably a permanent job loss" for those employers. 

According to U.S. labor data, employers are already facing a quit rate of 2.7% a month, the highest quit rate this century. 

Impact on job turnover

It's difficult to know just how disruptive a vaccine mandate will be on job turnover. 

In Connecticut, for instance, a vaccine mandate for school bus drivers took effect Monday. Published reports estimate that as many as 200 to 300 drivers rejected vaccination and the alternative, weekly COVID-19 tests.

Although there were a few problems on some school bus routes on Monday, it was "manageable," said Frances Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. 

"Safety of our students is a top priority," Rabinowitz said. "I'm pleased that the governor did not offer more time or a moratorium [on the vaccination mandate] as was requested by some bus companies."

Meanwhile, H.R. managers have been using cash incentives, wage increases and hiring bonuses to help offset job turnover. That includes Southwest Airlines Co. 

"The labor market has been very tough and tougher than probably many of us expected," said Kelby Tansey, the team lead of recruitment marketing Southwest Airlines Co., at the Phenom People Inc.'s virtual conference this week. Phenom is a talent relationship vendor based in Ambler, Penn. 

Southwest has been trying to increase its candidate pool. It has an employee referral program but recently added incentives. They use Phenom's internal mobility platform, which they had deployed in 2019, for its employee referral incentive program.

Employees making referrals are now eligible for Southwest Airlines Gratitude (SWAG) points, which are used for things like gift cards and travel for family and friends. 

The incentive program is working for Southwest. Since adding the incentives, employee referrals increased from 125 a week to 1,000.

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