116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Communication circulated among Hy-Vee employees statewide 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 West Des Moines-based grocery retailer’s staff website and a letter circulated to Hy-Vee site managers was ordering employees to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 22 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 months, 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 to provide the company with 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 Iowa company preparing for the rule, first unveiled by President 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 Iowa businesses preparing for the rule to be implemented.
Several Iowa employers have gone a step further and enacted vaccine mandates, including MercyOne, Tyson and Meredith Corp.
In Cedar Rapids, UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center instituted vaccines mandates.
The Oct. 15 deadline was set for accounting purposes and not to force action, Potthoff added.
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, which says it's the state's largest employer, 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.
More than 2,200 companies in the state have more than 100 employees.
About 50 percent of Iowans are fully vaccinated.