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Formerly the Newton-Needham Chamber

Be extra nice to these folks, ok?

Your head of H.R. is now basically the school nurse,” writes Emma Goldberg for the New York Times.
They've spent the past two years recommending policies and sending out memos about masks, cleaning protocols, when workers should stay home, when offices should reopen, what exactly “close contact” means, vaccine mandates, medical exemptions, booster mandates, and on and on and on.
And now, in January of 2022 they're revising those same polices again based on new data, new protocols and, too often, contradictory advice.
Oh yeah, it's also the most challenging hiring market ever.
If you haven't done so lately, make sure you tell your H.R. team how much you appreciate them.
Supremes just keep us hanging on
Many of those H.R. directors and managers likely spent part of their day yesterday checking their news feeds to see if a skeptical Supreme Court decided to toss Joe Biden’s vaccine or testing mandate for larger employers.
The rest of their day was perhaps spent implementing those parts of those OSHA rules that kicked in yesterday.
Employers with 100-plus onsite workers are now required to have a system to track employee vaccinations; testing and worker infections. And they should have rolled out polices for keeping infected workers home.
Workers at large companies who aren’t vaccinated now must wear a mask while indoors too.
Those same employers have until Feb. 9 before unvaccinated workers are required to take weekly tests, or face a fine of $14,000 per non-compliant incident and over $100,000 for repeated violations.
Then again, it can all be moot, if the court tosses it out.
Needham start up launches tracking tool to help
Regardless of how the court rules, a Needham startup (and chamber member) called ThinkSight has built a fully-automated tracking tool to help companies track employee vaccine and testing records, as required under those OSHA regs.
ThinkSight is offering subscriptions to their VAXtrac product to Charles River Chamber members at no cost.
Watch the video or sign up for free today (with the promo code TSVAXNOW).
Email questions to
And please let me know how it goes if you try it out.
State finally launches vaccine passport system
Gov. Charlie Baker finally rolled out a tool yesterday to make tracking vaccines easier.
In the planning stage since at least November, the “COVID-19 SMART Health Care" app allows vaccinated residents to access a digital record of their COVID-19 vaccine history, including a scannable QR code, that can be stored on smartphones.
The system arrives just days before Boston’s vaccine mandate for indoor dining, indoor fitness and indoor entertainment goes into effect on Saturday, notes Matt Murphy at State House News.
A similar mandate has been adopted in Salem. Somerville, postponed a decision in December.
Newton’s Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said she is not planning to follow Boston at this time. Same, so far, in Needham, Watertown and Wellesley.
But last week, 71 percent of our chamber members told us they support of vaccine mandate similar to Boston’s. I interpret that as a signal that many of our business are increasingly open to polices that could eventually put years of COVID disruptions behind them.
Business coalition urges municipalities to back off
While many of our members are supportive of at least some form of vaccine mandate, some business groups across the state – including the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Mass Restaurant Association – oppose municipal vaccine and mask mandates.
“Government-imposed mandates will injure small businesses by lowering sales, raising operational costs, and placing employers in the unfair positions of enforcing health orders,” the groups wrote in a statement last week.
That may be true in many parts of the commonwealth, but in our inner west suburban communities (where adult vaccine residential rates are generally at 95 percent) vaccines mandates may actually bolster consumer confidence and help bring customers back inside our restaurants, fitness clubs and entertainment venues.
Our chamber (along with a number of other business groups) was invited to sign onto the statement. We declined because we do not yet have a formal position on the municipal vax mandates and continue to welcome your feedback.
But hospitals want cities and towns to act
In contrast, the heads of the state’s four largest hospital groups are urging municipal leaders to follow Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's lead.
“As much as we believe in the power of individual choice, there are times that require individual action for the common good,” they wrote in a Globe op-ed.
Rapid tests to be covered by insurance
Private insurers will have to cover the cost of over-the-counter Covid-19 tests starting Saturday under a new Biden administration plan, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Individuals with private health insurance can expect insurers to reimburse them for up to eight tests a month per covered individual, or else purchase them at no cost through their insurance.
No deductibles, coinsurance or copayments are required. The price will be capped at $12 per test with consumers required to cover the added cost for more expensive tests.
And speaking of over the counter tests, the Globe looks at whether you should swab both your nose and your throat when taking at an home test.
Other need to knows
  • Rotary Newton is organizing a food pantry drive through next Monday (Jan. 17) in conjunction with the City's Martin Luther King, Jr Day celebration. Collection boxes are located at all Village Bank locations, the Scandinavian Living CenterNewton City Hall, and Newton Police Headquarters.
  • The Massachusetts Package Stores Association is pushing a “compromise” ballot question that would lift but not eliminate the cap on liquor licenses. (CommonWealth)
  • The Wellesley High School Senior Project Program is looking for employers who would like to host a student intern and/or be mentors for young entrepreneurs (students who aren't interning, but want to create a business plan and therefore don't necessarily need a place to go to do work as much as an advisor with knowledge of the process/business, etc) during the spring of 2022. Email for details.
  • The Second Church in West Newton has 7000 sq ft available to rent in its educational annex building. Details.
Student debt relief plan pitched for also helping employers
State lawmakers pitched a new tax exemption last week that they say could address both student loan debt and help employers find and retain workers.
The proposed bill would establish a tax exemption for Massachusetts employers that assist their employees with paying off student loan debt, with the annual exemption capped at $2,000 per employee, according to Colin A. Young at State House News.
"The bill would incentivize more employers to provide a benefit to employees in the form of a tax-exempt employer student loan repayment, while providing those same employers with a tool to encourage their employees, in whom they have invested resources to train, to stay and grow here in the commonwealth," said Rob McCarron, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts 
Holiday sales were merry and (somewhat) bright
Retail sales at Massachusetts' small businesses were up significantly this holiday season over last year, although, as we all know, 2020 stunk since we didn’t even have widely available vaccines yet and shops were still operating under many restrictions.
According to a new Retailers Association of Massachusetts survey, 2021 holiday sales increased by 16.2% over 2020.
2021 sales were up 3.8% over the same period in 2019, the survey found.
The increase over 2019 “is relatively low when you factor in the inflation seen over the last year for increased labor and inventory costs, putting pressures on profitability,” Hurst said, according to the BBJ’s Greg Ryan.
On the other hand, business confidence kept dropping, hitting a 10-month-low as The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index.
That’s today’s Need to Knows, unless you need to know why your teen thinks a green text message bubble is “gross.”
Bundle up.

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