The mess is causing lots of companies to update their vaccination rules and rethink other pandemic policies in hopes of making the workplace safer, but the changes are, not shockingly, also leaving workers who’ve opted not to get a shot with the fewest accommodations since the pandemic started.
In a memo that CNBC got hold of yesterday, Google told employees they’ll be docked pay and eventually fired altogether if they don’t adhere to the company’s vaccination rules. Employees had been given until December 3 to either upload proof of vaccination or apply for a medical or religious exemption.
After that date, Google had said there’d be no more carrots, just sticks: The memo informs employees who don’t comply by January 18 that they’ll be placed on “paid administrative leave” for 30 days. Next, that will turn into “unpaid personal leave.” At the six-month mark, however, if they’re still not in compliance with the mandate, the memo notes “their employment with Google will end.” It adds that a small handful of employees already based outside of Google’s offices may be able to continue working remotely without the vaccine.
President Biden’s vaccine mandate may be encountering legal challenges, but America’s biggest grocery chain said last week that it’s going to step up pressure on employees to get vaccinated. It told them, in another memo, this one obtained by the Wall Street Journal, that starting on January 1, some COVID benefits will expire for unvaccinated workers. Paid emergency leave will not be available for unvaccinated employees who contract COVID, Kroger said, but it also added that a $50-a-month surcharge would appear on the company health plans of some staff, specifically unvaccinated managers and nonunion employees.
Kroger says the purpose is partly just modifying policies to encourage safe workplace behavior as everyone “prepares to navigate the next phase of the pandemic.” It is telling employees who chose to remain unvaccinated and then get coronavirus that they can take paid time off or apply for unpaid leave. It’s also been offering a $100 bonus payment as a reward to get the jab.
The Verge also reported yesterday that Apple is rolling back out its in-store mask mandate. The company had begun removing the requirement at stores very recently, just since November, but it notes now: “Amid rising cases in many communities, we now require that all customers join our team members in wearing masks while visiting our stores.” Employees have been required to wear masks for most of the pandemic, but relaxing the rule for customers has reportedly led to outbreaks at some stores. Separately, other reports say a number of locations will also reinstate the old occupancy limits, meaning reservations might be in order for your holiday visits.
In yet another memo, JPMorgan has warned unvaccinated employees to just stay away from the bank’s workplace. According to the New York Post, its Manhattan headquarters and eight other New York offices will now be “vaccinated only” workplaces. Those locations “will now follow relaxed mask guidelines, which only require masks be worn when walking through lobbies, riding in elevators, and in cafes when not eating,” the memo said. “Of course, you may continue to wear a mask when not in these areas if you’re more comfortable doing so.”
JPMorgan’s move is probably motivated more by New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s mask-or-vaccine mandate for state businesses than the federal rule. “As the pandemic continues to evolve, we can anticipate additional government restrictions and requirements,” the bank’s memo told employees. “For now, we believe that vaccinated-only offices are the right way forward.”
Amtrak goes in reverse
Not everybody’s policies are getting more draconian though. With the federal vaccine mandate deadline looming, about 5% of Amtrak’s workers were facing termination for not being vaccinated yet. But the rail service says that after a federal court last week halted enforcement of Biden’s mandate for federal contractors (of which Amtrak is one), it decided to “reevaluate our policy.” On Tuesday, it announced it was changing course and suspending its own companywide vaccine mandate.
Amtrak had previously complained that the federal rule would exacerbate the staffing shortages it’s already experiencing, causing it to reduce service. Fewer than 500 of its nearly 18,000 employees are unvaccinated or exempt from being vaccinated. Amtrak says they will undergo weekly testing as an alternative.