As countless offices prepare to reopen this fall, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the details, namely whether employees should be vaccinated or not. Tech companies are now some of the first employers to make their position clear: If workers want to return to the office, they will need to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
Google and Facebook – two of the largest technology companies in the world – announced on Wednesday that they will require that all employees returning to their U.S. offices be vaccinated. Google was the first to announce this at the beginning of the day, and Facebook followed suit a few hours later. The news comes as the U.S. government struggles to get its adult population vaccinated (currently, less than half of eligible Americans have received a vaccine dose), and cases across the country are rising as the more contagious delta variant spreads. So far, President Biden has not imposed a federal mandate on vaccines, which is largely left to employers to exert pressure if they want their employees to avoid getting Covid-19.
Technical firms were some of the first jobs to require employees to work from home at the onset of the pandemic. Now the same companies are some of the first major employers in the private sector to require employees to be vaccinated before returning. And other companies outside the tech industry are likely to keep up.
“I hope these steps will give everyone greater peace of mind when offices reopen,” Google Director Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog mail announcing the requirements. Google is also pushing back the date it will mandate employees to return to the office from September to October as soon as possible, citing concerns about the delta variant. Google also charges approx. 20 percent of its employees work permanently from home, and 60 percent work a few days a week in person.
Lori Goler, Vice President of Facebook, issued a statement says some of the company’s employees working in a U.S. office need to be vaccinated. Both Google and Facebook said they want a lawsuit for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons. “We continue to work with experts to ensure that our return plans prioritize the health and safety of all,” Goler wrote in a partial statement.
Under federal law, it has been considered legal for employers to require employees to be vaccinated. The courts has recently thrown cases out by people trying to sue hospitals and universities that have required vaccines.
Google and Facebook are both headquartered in Silicon Valley, a geographic area one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. But these companies are global companies that employ workers across the political spectrum and vaccine hesitation.
While most employees chimering into the company’s lists so far have seemed to support the vaccine mandate, some employees have complained about questioning the effectiveness of the vaccines and whether Google has the right to require one, according to a company source.
Given how politicized vaccines have become in the United States, where many conservative leaders have been slow to support vaccination and stoked vaccine skepticism, probably there will be more resistance.
Nevertheless, these large technology companies are once again setting the tone for how corporate America adapts its working conditions to the realities of ongoing pandemic.
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