Should Tourism Workers be Denied Employment if Unvaccinated?

Photo by Lukas Souza on Unsplash

The travel industry is ramping back up, and as it does, there’s a renewed need for labor — specifically, vaccinated labor.

In response to that need, industry leaders are asking governments to prioritize vaccinating travel workers, such as hotel and cruise ship employees and restaurant staff.

“If we need our sector to recover and come back and be able to handle the pent-up demand by the time we are in the run-up to the summer, frontline hotel workers and [cruise ship] crew will have to be vaccinated,” said Virginia Messina, managing director of the World Travel & Tourism Council. “They are our frontline workers.”

Some governments — specifically governments of tourism-dependent countries — are heeding those calls. Jamaica, for example, recently made a push to vaccinate a whopping 30,000 travel industry workers. The Maldives has also vaccinated a significant portion of its travel industry workforce, while Mexico is attempting to do the same.

Of course, not everybody wants to be vaccinated.

Many people have concerns about the potential risks associated with vaccination, and others simply can’t be vaccinated for health reasons. Some of those people make their living in the travel industry.

So what happens if a travel industry professional doesn’t want to or can’t be vaccinated? Is it fair to deny employment to the unvaccinated? Is it fair to offer travel jobs to vaccinated people — even if they’re less qualified than their unvaccinated peers?

Legally speaking, that’s difficult to say, but according to Osler, a Canadian law firm, employers are likely to have a difficult time forcing workers to get vaccinated.

“Absent government and medical directives for employers to require all employees to be vaccinated, or even strongly recommend that all employees be vaccinated, even a carefully drafted mandatory vaccination policy that addresses both human rights and privacy concerns for employees outside the healthcare context could be subject to a legal challenge,” an Osler blog post explained.

Andrew Miller, director of Americas partnerships at International SOS, echoed Osler’s sentiment, telling Travel News Network that an employer’s ability to enforce staff vaccination “varies greatly depending on where you are” in the world.

While fully vaccinated people are likely to be given priority for many travel industry jobs, it’s worth noting that some markets are experiencing serious labor shortages — which means they might not be able to afford that kind of selectiveness.

The hospitality industry in Florida, for example, is currently facing a significant labor shortage — to the point that employers are “desperate for workers.”

“Simply put, we are competing with state and federal unemployment benefits,” Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) CEO Carol Dover told members of the newly-enacted U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion (via Travel Weekly). “Workers tell us they make too much on unemployment to return to work. So businesses are forced to limit capacity and shorten their hours without adequate staff to serve guests.”

That being said, some companies will likely refuse to employ unvaccinated people — even if they’re more qualified or experienced than their vaccinated colleagues.

Fair our foul? What do you think?




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