With COVID-19 cases rising across the country because of the delta variant and low vaccination rates, some businesses are mandating their employees get vaccines to come back to the office.
Earlier this week, influential companies, from Google and Facebook to most of the hospital systems in North Carolina, began to require employees to get vaccinated rather than rely on them voluntarily doing so.
In May, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission released new guidance saying employers could legally require vaccines to re-enter offices — if they allowed alternative options for employees unable to get vaccines for medical reasons or relgious objection, ABC News reported.
On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper filed an executive order that would make unvaccinated employees of the governor’s office or cabinet-level agencies submit to weekly COVID-19 testing if they are not fully vaccinated, The News & Observer reported. The order applies to more than 55,000 workers.
Cooper also strongly encouraged private businesses and local governments to take similar measures to encourage vaccination and slow the spread of COVID-19.
The News & Observer surveyed some of the Triangle’s largest employers to ask if they will mandate vaccines as they return to the office. So far, responses have been mixed from local companies.
Who is requiring vaccines
SAS Institute is hoping to fully reopen its Cary campus, home to some 5,500 workers, on Sept. 7, spokeswoman Shannon Heath told The N&O on Friday.
But with the delta variant on the rise, the company said the date is subject to change. SAS has also made the decision that, at this time, it will only let vaccinated workers come to work on campus.
“Like many companies, we are requiring employees to be vaccinated to return to the office in our efforts to keep everyone safe and healthy as we re-enter the workplace,” Heath said in an email. “Public health experts are encouraging citizens to get fully vaccinated to protect our communities against the coronavirus, particularly the Delta variant.”
Even though SAS’ campus is full reopning, employees there will still be allowed a lot of flexibility in how they choose to work. Workers are encouraged to work in the office two to three days per week. But unvaccinated employees are being asked to work fully remotely.
Heath said the company’s policies will be adjusted to follow CDC guidelines.
Cisco Systems, which employs around 5,000 people in Research Triangle Park, said it will only allow vaccinated workers to come into the office.
“July and August are transition months for us where we will continue with what we’re doing today, which is you need to be vaccinated and a critical worker in order to come in,” a spokesperson for the company said in an email. “We will continue doing this while looking at the data and vaccination rates in various parts of the world, given we’re a global company.”
The company said it would continue to assess that decision as it moves into a hybrid-work model in the fall.
Google, which is beginning to staff an office in downtown Durham, told employees earlier this month that its work-from-home policy had been extended from Sept. 1 until Oct. 18, ABC News reported. However, anyone coming into one of its offices must be vaccinated, CEO Sundar Pichai said.
“We’re rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months,” Pichai said in the memo. “The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”
Who is not mandating yet
Other companies have not yet decided to mandate vaccines as a requirement to return to the office, though many said they were closely monitoring the situation.
Citrix, which maintains a large office in downtown Raleigh, said it is strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated and providing time off to do so — but it has not yet mandated vaccines. The company is still requiring masks for everyone in the office.
“According to internal surveys, about 85% of employees at our largest sites in the US are self-reporting that they are fully vaccinated,” spokeswoman Karen Master said in an email. “Whether vaccinated or not, all employees who return to our facilities will be required to follow social distancing and masking protocols which we are keeping in place.”
Bandwidth, a company that is now back in the office five days a week, also said it is not mandating vaccines. David Doolittle, the company’s spokesman, said Bandwidth is “closely following the situation” with the delta variant.
IBM, which has around 8,000 employees in Research Triangle Park, is also not mandating vaccines, according to a spokeswoman, though it is still working mostly remotely.
Raleigh software startup Pendo and Durham semiconductor maker Cree are also not requiring employees to be vaccinated to return to the office.
Lenovo, which has operations in Morrisville, is lso not requiring vaccines. A spokesperson said, “We are taking the latest recommendations and guidance from the CDC into consideration as we continue to develop our plans to return to the office.”
Epic Games said its Cary office is still closed to workers and the company has not yet formalized a return-to-the-office plan, according to a spokesperson.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate.