NYC vaccine policy could impact public worker morale, workload
February 17, 2022
Several thousand New York City public workers are expected to lose their jobs following Friday's deadline for workers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
Rebecca Kehoe, associate professor of human resource studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says mass firings can lead to resentment by remaining employees who feel as though they are penalized by having to take on a heavier workload to accommodate for the reduced workforce.
“Mass firings have the potential to undermine an organization’s relationships with remaining employees for a number of reasons. Seeing colleagues getting fired may cause remaining employees to question the organization’s commitment to all employees, including themselves. It can also create resentment when remaining employees feel as though they’re personally being penalized by having to take on a heavier workload to accommodate a reduced workforce. While any remaining employees may be prone to these reactions, these responses may be particularly prevalent among those who don’t agree with or don’t understand the organization’s rationale for letting their colleagues go – for political reasons or otherwise.
“At the same time, to the extent that employees’ refusal to comply with an organizational mandate is seen as a rejection of core organizational values, letting non-compliant employees go is certainly one approach to signaling the organization’s unwavering commitment to those values. While some may view these firings as an extreme measure, another perspective is that in the unique case of the vaccine mandate, an organization’s retention of non-compliant employees may be seen as a weakened commitment to protecting the rest of its workforce.
“In all cases, clear communication from the organization is critical in conveying the intent behind these decisions.”
JR Keller, assistant professor of human resource studies at the ILR School, has done research on whether and when businesses benefit by rehiring former employees.
"It seems unlikely that New York City workers will be particularly ‘mad’ at their supervisor’s decision to let them go, given that it was a city mandate, and wouldn’t anticipate many negative repercussions associated with bringing workers back on board."