Vaccine Mandates: Enforcing Safety Protocols and the Impact on the Event Workforce

Key Takeaways:

  • As long as a state does not have legislative action against it, event professionals can require vaccine, testing, and mask requirements.
  • Vaccination status at an event does not fall under HIPAA.
  • Hiring a partner to manage and track vaccination status and exemptions keeps event staff safe and the decision in an expert’s hands.
  • Experts agree that vaccine mandates may positively impact the workforce shortage by creating a safer, healthier environment to work in.

President Joe Biden’s federal vaccination mandates have been met with a mixture of relief and outrage across all industries. The mandates require federal government employees and government contractors, as well as 17 million health care workers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandates also state that businesses with 100-plus employees be required to vaccinate or test weekly, and Biden has called on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccine or test upon entry.

As one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, mandates provide a means for the event industry to return full force. But what has been the consensus among those working in the industry, and how should event professionals attempt to navigate mandates when they go into effect?

Event Leadership Institute (ELI) CEO Howard Givner noted in a recent ELI webinar, Unpacking the Biden Vaccine Mandates: Legal, Strategic, and Tactical Impacts for Events, that having a national standard should make it easier to plan meetings and events because it gives organizations a federally mandated reason to enforce health measures.

Event veterans Steve Adelman, head of Adelman Law Group and vice president of the Event Safety Alliance; Greg DeShields, executive director of Tourism Diversity Matters; and Carol McGury, executive vice president of event and education services at Smith Bucklin, weighed in on how mandates have already been impacting the industry:

How do the mandates affect event professionals? While the mandate stating companies with 100-plus employees doesn’t really impact event professionals who are independent contractors, or even sub-contractors, it does apply to hotels, convention centers, and other venues where events take place, noted Adelman. “It’s going to increase the likelihood that when we can put on events in an economically viable way, we will be going to venues where at least the staff will be vaccinated or have a negative PCR test because they’re getting tested weekly.”

How should event professionals deal with people claiming religious exemptions/presenting fake vaccine passports? Adelman said there’s no way to really qualify a religious exemption, however, masking and testing protocols provide safeguards when confronted with exemptions or forged vaccination cards.

McGury noted that the best way to handle vaccination status checks is by hiring a company to do it for you. “This is where budgeting for these types of services becomes imperative as you’re planning events,” she said, noting that companies like CLEAR handle vaccine and testing status and provide added security, so that you’re never putting a staff person in a potentially contentious situation. “So, it requires additional dollars, but dollars well-spent,” she added.

Is asking for vaccination status a violation of HIPAA? HIPAA affects health care providers who are using medical information in the course of providing health care, noted Adelman. HIPAA does not apply to event professionals.

Can you ask outside staff—hotel, audiovisual, catering staff, etc.—for proof of vaccine when you’re requiring it of attendees? You can make vaccination a condition for anyone working for you, given you don’t live in a state where it’s illegal (for example, Florida will issue fines for requiring vaccination).

How are people in the industry reacting to the mandates? DeShields said the sentiment is mostly positive, noting that Philadelphia recently hosted two large conventions where safety measures were effective. “So, there is an ability to do meetings, big meetings safe, but the idea of having support and validation of those measures are crucial; it provides a much healthier work environment for those teams that will need to be able to ensure that these types of safety measures are implemented. But most importantly it centers on giving confidence to employers,” he said.

How are mandates impacting the hospitality workforce? For many people, deciding not to go back to work was a safety issue, and vaccination mandates serve to provide a safe working environment, noted DeShields. He believes the current shortage shifts with the season and may change as more people decide to vaccinate and rejoin the workforce.

McGury noted that mandates impose one more level of planning. “With the staffing shortage, again the right thing to do is get vaccinated, no one would question that, it just becomes an additional business hurdle for the planner to have to be thinking about that as well as what’s the impact on service levels,” she said.

While the employment crisis may be immediate, and the many shifts in the dynamic of the event landscape have been too many to list, vaccine mandates are viewed positively within the event industry. “On the long term, I think everyone would agree this is a net positive for the events industry. The more people that are vaccinated, the more likely we are to get together in large groups, the faster our recovery will be,” Givner said.

For more about the impact of mandates on the event industry, listen to the entire conversation here.