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FDA approval of the COVID vaccines could be the tipping point for Chipotle Mexican Grill and other restaurant employers to mandate shots for their workers.

Chipotle Mexican Grill may soon require employees to be vaccinated

CEO Brian Niccol said he is waiting for FDA approval of the vaccines but the fast-casual chain is leaning toward a mandate for workers

Once federal health officials formally approve the COVID vaccines, Chipotle Mexican Grill may require workers to get the shots, CEO Brian Niccol said Wednesday in a video interview with The Washington Post.

Chipotle is among a growing number of businesses that are thinking about establishing vaccine mandates for workers — including many across the restaurant industry — as a means to spur on vaccination rates. 

Some are also requiring guests to be vaccinated. Though many operators are reluctant to put their workers in the role of policing inoculation for the general public, especially after witnessing the backlash over mask wearing.

But requiring workers to be vaccinated — with accommodations for certain employees — is a viable option, attorneys say.

Still for many employers, the lack of Food and Drug Administration approval for the vaccines being used in the U.S. is a sticking point. Currently, the FDA has approved the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for emergency use, though reports indicate full approval could come within weeks

The surge in COVID cases resulting from the highly contagious Delta variant has not yet impacted customer foot traffic at Chipotle, Niccol said. But the company is seeing more workers being excluded because they have COVID or have come into contact with someone with COVID.

Chipotle mandates that workers wear masks, and signs at the door recommend that customers wear masks — though employees are not expected to police mask wearing, he said. Rather than seeing a national mask mandate, Niccol said, “My preference would be everybody gets vaccinated, and we move on.”

Earlier this year, Chipotle offered a two-for-one burrito incentive to encourage guests to be vaccinated. But Chipotle has held back on requiring the shots for workers because of the lack of FDA approval, Niccol said.

“What we are waiting on is for the final approval of the vaccine,” he said. 

If and when that happens, the company is leaning toward requiring vaccines to be able to come back to the office or for large employee gatherings, he said. Chipotle has events that bring together as many as 4,000 people. “In order to attend that event, we’re going to have everybody vaccinated to ensure it’s safe,” he said.

“Hopefully where we get to is a really good place in the vaccination rates and we can get back to socializing the way we used to,” added Niccol.

A worker mandate will soon impact Chipotle units in New York City.

There, restaurant workers and customers must be vaccinated to dine indoors, starting in September. Details on how that will be executed are still being worked out, and “it’s going to be tricky,” Niccol said

Attorneys at the law firm Fisher Phillips write that there are a number of options for employers who want to boost the vaccination rates among their staff, ranging from informational campaigns and incentives to outright mandates.

Interest in employee mandates appears to be growing, according to Fisher Phillips. The law firm which has a large hospitality practice, surveyed clients this week and found the proportion of employers mandating or considering a vaccine mandate has grown fourfold in the past three months. 

With 724 responding, the survey found 15% of employers are now mandating the vaccine or considering a mandate as a condition of employment, a dramatic jump from 4% who said the same in May.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout


TAGS: Coronavirus
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