Blog: COVID-19 Mandates: Recommendations for Hawaiʻi Businesses

Carl Bonham, Ruben Juarez, Blogs, COVID-19, Economy


Read the full UHERO brief.

By Ruben Juarez, Alika Maunakea, May Okihiro, and Carl Bonham

Faced with the largest increase in cases since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii needs effective solutions that would reduce the number of cases disproportionately ravaging communities in the state. In August 2021, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization and the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 (PAAC) conducted a representative survey of businesses and community organizations in the state to (1) understand their willingness to adopt restrictions at their workplaces for employees and customers and (2) understand barriers to effectively execute these restrictions if implemented.

884 businesses participated in the survey, with over 95% of them located all over Oahu. Most businesses in the survey had ten or fewer employees (73.4%). Over 20 sectors in the survey were represented, ranging from tourism, retail, and food and beverage to smaller offices, real estate, and non-profit organizations. The main survey findings include:

  • Vaccination rates: Most businesses and organizations report a large proportion of vaccinated employees. Over 80% of businesses in our survey report over 80% of their employees have been fully vaccinated. The largest businesses of 50 or more employees reported the lowest proportion of vaccinations at their workplaces.
  • Vaccination mandate: 64.5% of businesses reported that they already do or likely will require employees to be vaccinated. Over one-third of the businesses already requiring vaccination of employees, and an additional 15.1% are unsure or still deciding. Main reasons why employers do not consider a vaccination mandate include: employee resistance, personal preference of employer, belief that it is not legal or constitutional to mandate vaccination, and that it is not their organization’s responsibility to do so. Of the businesses that already do or likely will impose a vaccine mandate, 80% report that they do so to increase safety at work, protect employees, protect customers, protect the community, and decrease the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
  • Testing mandate: 60.6% of businesses responded that they already do or likely will require unvaccinated employees to be regularly tested for COVID-19. An additional 18.5% of businesses reported that they are unsure or still deciding. The main reasons why employers would consider testing mandates are similar to that of vaccination mandates.
  • Vaccine passport or negative test from clients: Only 35.5% of businesses have already in place or likely will require a vaccine passport or negative test from clients. Nearly half of businesses (48.5%) reported that they would not impose this requirement on their clients or customers. An additional 15.9% of businesses have not made a decision about this policy. Customer resistance, logistical feasibility, personal preferences, and perceived business disadvantages were the main reasons for businesses unwilling to impose this restriction.
  • Business needs remain: Nearly 50% of businesses in the survey request COVID-19 education for employees, 28% need more information and guidance on COVID-19 regular testing for employees, and 23% need guidance on vaccination events for employees.

Based on the results of this survey compounded by the expanding number of cases among unvaccinated individuals, and reasons/behaviors of unvaccinated individuals, our research team recommends the following:

  • Vaccination and regular testing for employees: Businesses must adopt vaccination and regular testing for unvaccinated individuals as early as possible.  
  • Increase of COVID-19 testing: The State of Hawaii should increase and support community testing at a larger scale.
  • Clear guidance for businesses: The State of Hawaii should provide clear guidance and education for businesses that would encourage employee vaccination and testing, COVID-19 education, and testing modalities for businesses that would minimize risk at workplaces.
  • Accessible educational materials for employees: The State of Hawaii should create accessible educational materials that reach employees of all literacy levels related to COVID-19 vaccination benefits, regular testing, and instructions on what to do when workers are sick and/or test positive for COVID-19. 
  • Coordination with vaccine providers: Vaccine providers should coordinate vaccination events for businesses and community organizations with the largest rates of unvaccinated individuals.
  • Mandatory vaccine passports for high-risk businesses: The State of Hawaii should mandate vaccine passports in high-risk businesses. Correct guidelines and infrastructure must be provided to minimize customer resistance, logistic issues and make the vaccine passport requirement sector-specific to decrease putting businesses at a disadvantage.