Colorado Companies With 100 Or More Employees Prepare To Roll Out Biden’s COVID Vaccine Requirement

Commercial buildings seen from a downtown Denver parking garage. May 5, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Commercial buildings seen from a downtown Denver parking garage. May 5, 2021.

The details of President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate for private businesses are still being worked out, but Colorado companies are already preparing.

The executive order, which will apply to every company with at least 100 employees, puts new pressure on holdouts to get a vaccine or undergo regular testing —  or find a new job. The plan is being administered through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the government agency that regulates workplace safety, and should be finalized in the coming weeks.

Some Republican governors have come out against the mandate. Arizona is suing the Biden administration to stop it. But even though traditional business organizations often skew toward the more conservative end of the political spectrum, there is plenty of support for the move in Colorado’s business community.

“Mandates aren’t something that we typically are comfortable with, but in this case, there is a general understanding of the necessity in order to …. address, primarily, a public health crisis which is threatening disease spread and, ultimately, life - but also to make sure that we are continuing to keep our economy vital,” said John Tayer, president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

The business community needs to do everything it can to prevent the kind of economic disruption that hobbled the economy when the pandemic first hit last year, he said. A government rule will make it easier for companies that are struggling to figure out how best to proceed, Tayer said.

“There was so much uncertainty around the legal ground on which they stood,” he said.

A quiet hallway in the Metropolitan Building in Downtown Denver. May 5, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty
A quiet hallway in the Metropolitan Building in Downtown Denver. May 5, 2021.

Some Colorado companies went ahead without the federal government’s stamp of approval. Pinnacol Assurance, a Denver-based insurance provider with about 650 employees, started mandating vaccinations for employees last month.

There are some exemptions for remote work, but not many, according to Pinnacol president and CEO Phil Kalin. All employees meeting externally with clients – even if they don’t go into the office – have to be vaccinated, he said. 

“Unless you’re staying in your home, and doing your work from home, you’re required to demonstrate that you’ve been vaccinated,” Kalin said.

Earlier this month, Kalin urged other CEOs to take similar measures. He strongly supports the Biden administration’s decision to push companies to require vaccinations.

“Anything we can do to get more and more people vaccinated is a good thing and I certainly support the action,” Kalin said.

But even in Denver, where vaccination rates are well above the national average, some business leaders remain reticent. For example, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce isn’t backing Biden’s plan.

“We understand that our elected and public health officials have had to make difficult decisions throughout this pandemic to try and keep more people safe,” president and CEO J.J. Ament said in an emailed statement. “We have long supported the ability of employers to make such decisions for their own organizations. We continue to support that local approach today.”

The chamber will do its best to help businesses understand the final rule from OSHA once it’s published, Ament added. 

Tayer of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce hopes a federal mandate will bring greater community acceptance for the idea of vaccine mandates – even for those business owners that aren’t forced to comply.

“When they are presenting mandates for businesses of a certain size, that then creates a greater opportunity and a pathway for many of our smaller businesses … to pursue that as well,” he said. 

CPR, which meets the 100-plus employee mark, has a high rate of staff members who have self-reported they are fully vaccinated. CPR will be subject to the President’s vaccine mandate. We are currently awaiting details.