When businesses think about the cost of unvaccinated workers, they look at it in rings. The first, innermost ring is the most obvious: The unvaccinated workers themselves. How much the employee will be out if they get sick. And how that will affect the cost of insurance premiums.
But to move to the next ring.
"You know, there are a lot of downstream decisions that need to be made," said Margie Rosenberg, professor of risk and insurance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She said this is where calculating costs starts to involve some prediction, planning and math.
"The best thing that people can do is to estimate exposure. And then if they estimate exposure then they can then more verbally talk about the impact on it," she said.
Exposure is that second ring. For instance, what if an employee who's unvaccinated gets other employees sick and lots of workers are out at once? And how does this affect how much work gets done? John Dooney is with the Society for Human Resource Management.
"If an employee isn't there to perform work, they're not producing, they're not producing for the company and it hurts overall productivity," he said.
He said it's an especially important question at a time when companies are having difficulty hiring and don't have a lot of extra hands.
And the third and final ring?
"I think the sales impact can be huge for certain types of businesses," said Gene Lai, a professor of risk management and insurance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He said it's important for consumer-facing businesses like airlines to figure out how mandating or not mandating employee vaccines will affect how customers feel. Right now, that's one of the trickiest parts of the puzzle.
"Usually when we do predictions, right, we actually base it on past experiences. In this case we don't have much past experience to do it," he said.
But as more companies grapple with those decisions, data will grow. And companies within sectors will be able to better compare performance.