Vaccine mandates in many countries - both democratic and autocratic, individualist and collectivist - are prompting discussions regarding their legality. The issue is multifaced, touching on areas of executive power, employment laws, and some argue, human rights. The need for significant scientific input, and the politicized nature of such mandates, adds to the complexity of enacting and enforcing mandates.
Since mid-2021, several countries, as well as businesses, have to varying degrees implemented vaccine mandates on citizens and employees, respectively.
We analyse the various vaccine mandates that governments and businesses around the world have implemented. We compare these mandates with each other, and then discuss the approach taken in Japan. We also discuss the impact that such mandates may have on your business abroad.
Broadly, there are two types of vaccine mandates. Those imposed by federal and/or local governments, and those imposed by private corporations. (Click here for "Private Sector Vaccine Mandates Around The World")
Government Vaccine Mandates Around the World
Countries that have issued vaccine mandates include the U.S, U.K, France, Greece, China, U.A.E, Canada, Australia, and Italy. Most countries have only issued mandates in relation to specific groups, such as healthcare workers and nursing home staff. Some countries, such as Greece, and state governments such as New York, have required businesses to ensure that bar and restaurant patrons are vaccinated. Italy, through its ‘green pass’ programme, made proof of vaccination compulsory for all government and private sector employees; making the programme one of the world’s strictest vaccine mandates.
We explore the differing approaches in the United States, U.K and China, and then compare their approaches to that of Japan.
In July 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order that federal workers will be required to receive vaccinations. President Biden then announced in September that all businesses with more than 100 employees must ensure their workers are vaccinated, or alternatively tested every week. These mandates combined are estimated to apply to more than two-thirds of the American workforce. Employees who fail to comply could risk losing their jobs, and employers who fail to enforce could be fined up to nearly $14,000.
President Biden’s mandate was issued pursuant to emergency powers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. As the head of the federal workforce, President Biden requires that federal workers to be vaccinated, and through his power to enact emergency standards to uphold safe workplaces, he ordered companies to ensure that workers are vaccinated. By relying on his exercise of Executive power, President Biden has tried to bypass case law holding that the federal government cannot mandate vaccines for its citizens. Nonetheless, the Biden Administration already faces legal challenges from several states including Arizona, Iowa, Montana, and New Hampshire. Further, the Texas governor issued an executive order giving a wide scope of exemptions (including for ‘any reason of personal conscience’), which has undermined the federal vaccine mandate. More states will likely follow in challenging mandates and making their own orders.
Compared to the U.S, the U.K is taking a more hands-off approach. In early November, it was announced that additionally to care home workers, frontline NHS staff will be required to receive vaccinations. Plans to require patrons at nightclubs and other large events to show proof of vaccination were put forward but were scrapped in September. Instead, the U.K government has invited views from the public in relation to a vaccine mandate as a ‘Plan B’ if the situation worsens during the winter.
The Chinese government, technically, has not mandated vaccines at a central government level. In reality, Xi Jinping’s target of fully vaccinating 1.1 billion people by the end of October means local governments must go to extreme lengths to meet the central government’s goal. Some local governments have banned children from returning to school, unless they and their families are fully vaccinated. Others have barred unvaccinated people from entering public spaces or have withheld pay from state-owned enterprise workers until get they vaccinated.
Japan, unlike many countries, has not experienced stringent government-imposed lockdown rules. Because the Japanese government’s powers are constitutionally limited, it can only urge the populace to stay home and cannot impose any penalties for non-compliance. Similarly, the employee-friendly laws are unlikely to allow local governments or businesses to impose compulsory vaccinations.
What does this mean for your business?
Japanese companies with businesses abroad should keep informed about local regulatory updates and set company policy in accordance with ever-changing government orders and regulations. For businesses with a presence in countries such as the United States and Italy, where strict government mandates have been imposed on federal and private sector employees, compliance should be monitored, and internal policies should be set accordingly.
While governments have instituted sweeping mandates, private businesses are left with uncertainty as to whether they too can impose workplace vaccine mandates.
In Part 2, we discuss the ability and restraints on private businesses to impose vaccinate mandates independent of government ones. We explain how a global one-size-fits-all company policy would not work with vaccination policies in overseas subsidiaries and affiliates. In countries with a high level of labour protection, vaccine policies must be approached with caution: thus, strongly urging employees to get vaccinated, or implementing incentive programmes, might be a more effective approach.
*This Column is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.
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