Hy-Vee says it is NOT mandating vaccines, only preparing in case Biden executive order goes into effect

Hy-Vee is not — NOT — mandating employee vaccinations.

That’s the message delivered by Tina Potthoff, Hy-Vee’s senior vice president of communications, in advance of a “Freedom Rally” expected to take place today from 5-6:30 p.m. at an intersection outside the company’s Chariton distribution center.

The online notice of the rally reads “Hy-Vee has implemented a vaccine mandate for all warehouse workers and truck drivers.They have until this Friday, October 22nd, to show proof of the vaccine or they have to take a COVID test once a week.”

Potthoff said Hy-Vee is not putting such a mandate in place. The company sent out a communication to employees on Friday preparing in case an executive order from President Joe Biden goes into effect. The federal executive order is related to COVID-19 vaccination status and requirements that employers must follow as it relates to the vaccination status of their employees. The order requires that companies with 100 or more employees verify the vaccination status of their employees. And, if an employee has not been vaccinated, they will be required to take a COVID test each week and provide a negative test result in order to come to work. There is discussion that the requirement could go into effect for businesses as early as next week.

“In order for us to be ready for this, we are trying to update our records to determine what the vaccination status is for our employees,” she said.

Currently, the company provides guidance that unvaccinated workers should wear masks. Vaccinated workers do not have to wear a mask. However, if there are state or local mask mandates, then the company requires employees to follow those directives.

Hy-Vee’s policy has not changed. Potthoff said it has been one of the few employers of its size to resist requiring the vaccination of employees. However, due to uncertainty from the federal government and a potential executive order from Biden, the company is trying to brace itself just in case.

“We want to get records up to date,” Potthoff said. “In order to run and operate, we have to make sure we have the amount of weekly testing kits we’re supposed to have should the federal order go into place. Since we have so many employees, we’re trying to get an accurate assessment of what that number or percentage is.”

Potthoff said she has seen random things pop up on social media that has left her shaking her head.

“Our policy has always been that we’re not mandating vaccines,” she said. “We’re on the same page (with the organizers of today’s rally).”

Potthoff said in the communication that was sent to employees, the company noted the regulation has not gone into effect. It also added they would not be asking for a weekly test of unvaccinated employees at this time.

“We’re trying to prepare in case it does go into effect,” Potthoff said. “If that’s the case, then we need to start ordering massive amounts of tests. We have 91,000 people who work for us. Right now we probably have enough tests to last a couple of weeks, but not for a prolonged period of time. Our goal is to make sure our employees will be able to work throughout this cumbersome federal process, should it go into effect.”

Since the start of the year, employees who are vaccinated can turn that information into their HR manager and receive a $100 gift card in return for receiving the vaccine; however, that reporting was never mandated by the company.

“We’re just trying to make sure people have food on the table and that the supply chain goes uninterrupted,” Potthoff said. “I’ll be honest, it’s certainly a tough thing to implement. Very tough. But if it’s going to happen within the next two weeks, we don’t want to be caught in a situation where our employees aren’t allowed to work or the company is fined by the federal government. We just want to continue to serve our customers.”

“It’s a matter of planning ahead. We must publicly plan ahead to protect our 91,000 employees. I’m sure some people won’t understand where this is coming from. But if the order goes into effect in two weeks, we want to be prepared for it. If the order never goes through, there’s nothing to worry but at least we will have been prepared.”

Author: Jacob Hall