(This article originally appeared in The Hill)
When President Biden announced his six-part plan to counter the continuing COVID-19 spread late last week, I immediately spoke to several clients, and none of them were happy.
“This is an infringement on our rights!” a client who runs a mid-sized landscaping firm told me. Another, the owner of a machines parts distribution company, complained that the order was “going to cost me money and give me a lot of headaches.”
At first, I couldn’t blame them for complaining. One of the major parts of Biden’s plan requires businesses with more than 100 employees to either document that their employees have been vaccinated against the virus or ensure that those who choose not to get vaccinated are getting tested weekly.
Businesses are awaiting forthcoming rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that will supposedly clarify all of this. But even when those rules appear, we can expect low grumblings, loud complaints and — of course — numerous lawsuits from companies, associations and business groups. Others will seek exemptions. More than a few will simply ignore the regulations and dare their employees to report them.
Now that I’ve had time to think about this, I’ve come to a conclusion: These people are wrong. To all of my clients and other business owners who will be affected by these new orders and who are upset by them, I say this: Please just shut up.
That’s right. Shut up. Stop complaining. You’re better than that. Do your part. Comply.
I get that this is going to be a huge pain in the neck. I understand that these new rules, which require you to ask private questions and delve into your employees’ personal behaviors and preferences, could subject you to liabilities. I know that there’s going to be confusion over the details of the OSHA rules — over how an employee is defined, how long the rules will apply and whether employees who refuse to comply must be fired.
I realize that this is yet another regulatory and cost burden that you’re expected to absorb in the midst of already higher costs, supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and an uncertain economy.
But how would these same people react if they were told by the government — as thousands of companies were during World War II — to stop making what they’re making and instead produce tanks, bullets or uniforms? Or if they were running a cotton or cattle farm during the Civil War and had all of their production confiscated by the military to sustain the war effort? Or operating a simple blacksmith shop in Rome when Augustus orders you to make weapons for his armies?
Since the beginning of civilization, and certainly since the inception of the United States, businesses have been forced into service by their governments for the sake of the national interest. There’s the landowner who lost his property in 1876 so that the state of Ohio could build an office building and for which the Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor, calling the move “essential to its independent existence and perpetuity.” Or the creation of the War Industries Board in World War I as a “regulatory agency set up to manage the economy” that “had more powers than any other U.S. government agency to that date” and which “persuaded” corporations “to cooperate voluntarily to meet the priorities of war production.” Or the loss of 20 percent of one’s workforce, the destruction of one’s business property and the oppressive wage and price controls forced upon businesses during the Revolutionary War.
Is this not the same? So far, more than 680,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, a number that exceeds the fatalities in the Civil War and is also higher than the American deaths suffered in both World Wars combined. During those wars, not only were the assets of countless businesses commandeered but the owners themselves were conscripted. Don’t we as business owners owe a duty to our country like all the other business owners who lived before us?
Of course we do. And what the government is requiring us to do isn’t such a big deal. We ask our employees whether they’ve been vaccinated and keep additional records. We send the unvaccinated to pharmacies and other locations where federally subsidized tests are offered for free. We take advantage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act tax credit to reimburse ourselves when employees miss work to get vaccinated.
These are not big or even costly asks, compared to the demands on businesses made by other governments over the centuries. And yet we’re fighting an equally deadly war. More people need to get vaccinated (or at least tested frequently) to stop the spread of the virus from infecting children, the elderly and the vulnerable, or from potentially mutating into something more deadly and infectious.
Biden is pushing businesses into doing what’s right for the country. And he’s not asking us to do that much, compared to what’s been asked of people in the past.