Two months ago, Tom Kline and Shanin Specter decided to require all 150 employees of their Center City law firm to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
All but seven employees ― those who received medical or religious exemptions — have since been vaccinated, and the firm is bringing everyone back to the office at 16th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia on June 1, said Shanin Specter, who cofounded Kline & Specter PC. The unvaccinated group will work in a separate space in the building.
Specter would like to see other companies, not just health-care employers like the University of Pennsylvania Health System, do the same thing. “If every employer took the position that we’ve taken, we would be a lot further along on getting past this pandemic,” he said.
Penn Health this week was the first major Philadelphia employer to announce that it was requiring employees to be vaccinated unless they had a medical or religious reason not to. But Specter and others said it was not surprising that a health-care provider would do so, given that its employees have so much contact with sick and vulnerable people.
After Penn Health’s announcement, The Inquirer found that numerous large employers in the region — including Campbell Soup Co. , Cooper University Health Care, Independence Blue Cross, Rivers Casino, Temple University Health System, Vanguard Group, Wawa, and Wells Fargo — were encouraging, but not requiring employees to be vaccinated.
The heads of two major business groups, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said Friday that their members were sticking to encouragement.
Part of it is cultural, said Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive of the New Jersey business group. Owners don’t feel comfortable requiring it, she said. “They are going to highly encourage their employees. Some many even provide incentives, time off to go get the vaccine, a bonus day off, something like that,” she said.
Firing people if they don’t get the vaccine is out of the question, Siekerka said. “We have a hiring crisis across the board,” she said, referring to the inability of many businesses to find employees.
Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania chamber, said he understood why health-care employers might require the vaccine, but said he was a bit surprised to hear that a law firm would do so. Still, he said he understood the impulse to make sure employees feel safe by requiring everyone to be vaccinated.
In this region, according to federal health figures, 44% of the Pennsylvania population has yet to receive a single vaccine shot. The equivalent figure is 43% in New Jersey and 49% in Delaware.
At Kline & Specter, with all but seven employees vaccinated, the firm is plunging fully back into office work. “We are not offering remote working,” Specter said.
Vaccinated employees have to prove their status by showing their COVID-19 vaccination record card with the CDC logo.
Specter is convinced the medical malpractice and personal injury firm will be more productive when it returns to working together in the office.
He also cited a benefit to the Center City economy as a bonus, especially if more businesses follow Kline & Specter’s lead in returning to the office.
“There are a lot of small businesses who are dependent on our law firm and other employers in the neighborhood for their economic survival,” Specter said. “We’re going to have our people back to work, and that means something good for Schlesinger’s Deli, two doors away, for the clothing store across the street, for the pizza place across the street.”