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Univision Adopts Vaccine Mandate. More Broadcasters Expected To Follow Suit.

Univision Communications is the latest broadcaster to require all its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Spanish-language media giant joins Beasley Media Group, Cumulus Media and Urban One in mandating workers roll up their sleeves. With infections and hospitalizations on the rise, a fully FDA-approved vaccine available, and a new Presidential mandate, more broadcasters are expected to follow suit in the weeks and months ahead.

Univision’s policy requires its employees in the U.S. to be vaccinated before returning to its facilities. It’s giving them until Oct. 2 to either receive the vaccine and provide documentation or provide proof of a qualifying exception. “Vaccinations continue to be one of the most important ways we can put an end to this global pandemic and protect our employees and the communities we serve,” the company said in a statement provided to Inside Radio.

Last Thursday President Biden issued a requirement that all employers with more than 100 workers ensure they get shots or test for the virus weekly. In the days that followed, broadcasters that have yet to make vaccines mandatory huddled with legal counsel to review the language in the President’s mandate and consider their options.

“We will continue to evaluate President Biden’s Executive order and we will make a decision at the appropriate time as to what extent we will enforce COVID vaccines or testing,” said David Santrella, President of Broadcast Media at Salem Media Group.

While four radio companies have put sweeping mandatory vaccine policies in place, other large operators have, so far, taken a more measured approach. Audacy is requiring all new employees to be fully vaccinated and iHeartMedia does not have a company-wide mandate regarding vaccinations.

Mandatory Vaccines Or Weekly Tests?

At the heart of Biden's new plan to compel some 80 million unvaccinated Americans to get shots is directing the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. While that gives them a choice, “most businesses assessing those two options will conclude that a vaccine mandate – with the legally-required exemptions – will be cheaper and easier to implement than a weekly testing regimen,” Scott Flick, a partner in the Washington, DC-based law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, told Inside Radio. Vaccines are also more likely to keep employees healthy and at their jobs.

Plus COVID tests will be in even higher demand after the President’s new rules go into effect. “Businesses that risk up to a $14,000 per employee fine for failing to test unvaccinated employees each and every week may find that they don’t want the added headache of worrying about securing an adequate number of test kits each week for their unvaccinated employees,” says Flick.

Small radio companies that employ fewer than 100 workers aren’t affected by Biden’s new policy. And there will almost certainly be legal challenges to what some have condemned as “heavy-handed authoritarianism.” “However, if having a vaccinated workforce becomes the new ‘standard of care’ for businesses defending against lawsuits from employees claiming to have caught COVID-19 at work, it does put pressure on all broadcasters, including those with less than 100 employees, to seriously consider their policies as well,” Flick notes.

With many workforces deeply divided on the issue of vaccine mandates, the President’s announcement provides some legal cover for larger businesses implementing mandates. And the four radio groups that have done so already have permitted exceptions on medical or religious grounds. “The courts have generally upheld such mandates as long as these escape valves are in place,” Flick notes.

For example, Urban One is making “reasonable accommodations for those with medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs.” And Beasley says it will “engage in an interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be provided as long as it does not create a hardship for Beasley and/or does not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others in the workplace and/or the employee.”

‘Staying Out Of Fray Not Possible’

The situation remains fluid with new developments on the COVID front almost daily. And while some station owners want to stay clear of the controversial issue and are hoping that most of their employees decide to get vaccinated on their own, that may no longer be an option. “It is becoming increasing difficult for business owners to stay uninvolved, as there will be employees on both sides of the issue—those that don’t want to be required to get vaccinated, and those that are appalled that their employer is asking them to come back to the studio without ensuring that everyone they encounter there will be vaccinated,” Flick suggests. “Staying out of the fray is not possible.”

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