Google and Facebook to require vaccines for in-office employees, paving the way for rivals to follow

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Google also followed Apple in pushing back its return to office to mid October from early September, and Twitter announced it was pausing all of its reopening plans indefinitely – moves that could trigger a flurry of copy cats across corporate America.

In a note to employees announcing the changes, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company has seen high vaccination rates for Google employees so far, which is why it is comfortable bringing workers back into the office. Currently, there are some early volunteers who are already working at various Google campuses. Workers will have to start reporting back to the office on Oct. 18.

“I hope these steps will give everyone greater peace of mind as offices reopen,” said Pichai in the message.

Any Google employee who doesn’t wish to get vaccinated but doesn’t have approval to work remote indefinitely will need to contact human resources and discuss their options, the company said. Google will announce expanded temporary work options for people with any special circumstances through the end of the year.

In Washington state, where Google has thousands of employees, the company had previously allowed employees who weren’t vaccinated or did not want to disclose their vaccination status to come into the office if they wore a mask and got weekly coronavirus tests, according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Post.

Facebook’s Vice President of People Lori Goler said in a statement that the company will have a process for anyone who cannot be vaccinated for “medical or other reasons,” but did not say if people who chose to be unvaccinated for nonmedical reasons could work remotely indefinitely.

Twitter, one of the first tech companies to close its offices at the start of the pandemic, said Wednesday it is shutting down its San Francisco and New York offices immediately. It had been slowly reopening the spaces to some workers while switching to a remote-first policy for anyone who wanted to stay home. The company also said it is pausing all future reopening plans while it monitors the coronavirus situation.

The announcements came after a flurry of activity around vaccine requirements, as the seriousness of the delta variant hit home for many including corporate America. On Thursday, President Biden is expected to announce that all federal employees and contractors must be either vaccinated or undergo regular coronavirus testing to continue working. State and local governments are issuing their own similar guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended people who are vaccinated start wearing masks in public indoor places in areas with high virus transmission.

Some employees welcomed the move. One Google employee, who declined to be named, said he is happy with the company’s announcement. Some of his colleagues had posted vaccine skeptical content on internal message boards, and he was nervous about being forced back into an office with unvaccinated people.

“I’d rather not be sharing a buffet with them,” the employee said.

Google has more than 140,000 full-time employees around the world, as well as over 100,000 contractors. It was one of the first major companies to send employees home as the coronavirus was spreading throughout the U.S. in March 2020. The company has also outlined in detail its plan for returning to the office with a “hybrid model.”

Unlike some smaller tech companies like Twitter and Slack, Google will require most workers to physically come into offices but only for three days a week. Those who want to stay remote have been told to ask their managers, and will be notified whether they can continue working away from an office permanently in August.

The company has said it is rebuilding the interiors of its buildings to accommodate more social distancing and make it easier to interact with colleagues who are still working from home. Outdoor spaces are being converted into work stations and special meeting pods are being built with big monitors to prevent video callers from feeling sidelined from in-person discussions. The company experimented with other ideas like self-inflating balloon walls.

Google has a lot at stake. Its entire corporate ethos is built around the idea of pulling together smart people into one place and getting them to come up with ideas together. The company also has billions of dollars in real estate investments that have largely sat empty over the last 18 months. A giant new showpiece building on its Mountain View campus was in the final stages of construction right as the pandemic hit.

Tech companies in Silicon Valley were some of the first to close their offices at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, and they are like a bellwether for what corporate America will do next when it comes to return to work policies.

In the spring, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon started rolling out their return-to-office plans which largely involved a hybrid approach – three days of work in the office and two at home, starting for most employees in the fall.

For the most part, wearing masks was not going to be a requirement for vaccinated in-office workers at most companies, and getting vaccines was not mandated. Now the companies’ plans appear to be going through another round of revisions.

Apple on Wednesday said it was reintroducing a face mask requirement in its retail stores to be in line with the new CDC guidance.

Apple was the first company to change its fall 2021 return-to-office date, announcing in July that workers would not be required back until October instead of the previously announced date in September. It has not yet announced any vaccination policy.

Amazon said it will not require its employees to get a vaccine to return to the office, but noted it strongly encourages employees and contractors to get vaccinated as soon as they are able.

Like Google, office chat app Slack will have a vaccine requirement for all employees returning to the office, but its rule could have a much smaller impact as the company switches to fully remote work.

“We are requiring vaccination to come into the office. Vaccination is not a requirement, nor is coming into the office, to maintain employment,” said Brian Elliott, executive lead of Slack’s Future Forum.

Ride sharing-app Lyft also told employees on Wednesday that it would require proof of vaccination to return to the office. However, workers had more time to get the shots. Lyft said it was setting a new return-to-the-office date of Feb. 2, 2022 – a six month delay from its previous return date.