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Vaccine Mandates Gain Steam as Walmart and Disney Require Shots

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Many had hoped incentives like cash bonuses would be enough to encourage vaccination, but the pace of immunizations has stagnated. On Friday, Walmart said it was doubling, to $150, its reward to employees who get vaccinated. But Rise Up Retail, a worker advocacy group, argued that Walmart should go even higher, quoting a Walmart employee who said a $500 bonus would “significantly boost vaccination rates.”

Recent court decisions have upheld employers’ rights to require vaccinations, including a ruling that said Houston Methodist Hospital could require health care workers to get shots. And governments at various levels have imposed their own mandates. President Biden announced on Thursday that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

“Once you get a little momentum, you get a sort of tidal wave,” said Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who was a member of Mr. Biden’s Covid-19 Advisory Board during the transition between presidential administrations. He has been an advocate for employer mandates, arguing they could help the country achieve herd immunity. He suggested that businesses had been waiting for “the other guy to do it, and then everyone piled on.”

The highly contagious Delta variant also showed that the coronavirus was not yet done disrupting corporate decision-making. Executives who had been hoping for a return to some degree of normalcy were faced on Tuesday with a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that even vaccinated people should resume wearing masks indoors in some parts of the country.

“It’s just been a nightmare for the management level,” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a partner at Mercer, a human resources consulting firm. “And they’re like, ‘OK, let’s just get vaccinated.’”

As businesses considered the spike in infections, they have also revisited long-awaited plans for the return to office.

On Friday, The New York Times Company indefinitely postponed its planned return to the office. The company, which employs about 4,700 people, had been planning for workers to start to return, for at least three days a week, in September. Its offices will remain open for those who want to go in voluntarily, with proof of vaccination.

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