Communication circulated among Hy-Vee employees last week regarding the company's reaction to President Joe Biden's emergency order requiring federal employees be vaccinated set social media rumbling.
Many who posted and commented appeared to believe that a video posted on the Hy-Vee staff website and a letter circulated to Hy-Vee site managers were ordering employees to provide proof of vaccination by Friday or face weekly testing at their own expense.
What's really happening, according to Tina Potthoff, Hy-Vee's senior vice president of communication, is that the company is preparing for a possible federal rule requiring all employers with at least 100 employees show proof their staffs are vaccinated or are being tested weekly for COVID-19.
Companies that fail to comply could face up to $14,000 in fines per violation.
The rule, which the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing, is expected in the next couple of weeks, according to Potthoff, but little is known beyond that, leaving companies to figure out how best to prepare.
Hy-Vee is asking its 91,000 employees, including several thousand in Nebraska, to provide the company a copy of their vaccination card by Friday so that it can get a better handle on how many tests it may need to have on hand on a weekly basis to meet the federal rule's requirements.
"Hy-Vee is not mandating its employees get vaccinated," Potthoff said via email. "At this time, we're trying to be prepared, should this go into effect by the federal government."
Hy-Vee is not the only company preparing for the rule, first unveiled by President Joe Biden on Sept. 9, when he also issued an executive order requiring all federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated. Potthoff said her company has seen copies of communications from several other businesses preparing for the rule to be implemented.
Several local and national employers have gone a step further and enacted vaccine mandates, including Bryan Health, CHI Health, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals and Tyson
The Friday deadline was set for accounting purposes and not to force action, Potthoff said. If a Hy-Vee employee is not vaccinated or does not want to share their vaccination status with the company, their job will not be in jeopardy. And if an employee needs to be tested weekly, should the rule take effect, that will not come at the employee's expense, but Hy-Vee's, Potthoff added.
But that also means the company needs to have some solid numbers to go by.
Until then, and if the rule does not go into effect, Hy-Vee's COVID-19 policy remains status quo.
"We ask that employees who are not vaccinated wear a mask to work, but we have never mandated a vaccine and are not mandating one now," Potthoff said. The company is offering any employee who gets vaccinated a $100 gift card.
Hy-Vee has five stores in Lincoln and more than two dozen in Nebraska.