Goldman Sachs, the top-tier New York City-based investment bank with 40,000 employees worldwide, previously told its Big Apple employees to return to the office by June 14. Over the last couple of months, major corporations, such as Apple, Google, JPMorgan, Facebook and Microsoft, have announced their return-to-work plans. Most of the big-named organizations are offering a flexible hybrid model of working—both in office and at home. Some may permanently remain working remotely.
As people return to headquarters and other locations, the next step for Goldman and other businesses is to decide their approach toward vaccinations. CNBC reported that Goldman is requiring its bankers, brokers, traders and other staff members to inform the bank by noon Thursday of their vaccination status, according to an internal memo.
Goldman’s decision—whether you agree with it or not—is understandable. It’s a reasonable response for executive leadership to want their workers vaccinated. This would help avoid potential legal liabilities, in the event an employee passes along Covid-19 to co-workers, who in turn, infect their families.
After more than a year at home, people are nervous about commuting back into a city that was once the hotspot and epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. With a fully vaccinated workforce, it would reduce some of the stress for the returnees. Once the offices fill up, having a large percentage of the office staff vaccinated would go a long way toward alleviating tensions.
The memo to employees said, “Registering your vaccination status allows us to plan for a safer return to the office for all of our people, as we continue to abide by local public health measures. As a result, it is mandatory that you submit your vaccination status on the Canopy app [the bank’s internal portal for employees], whether or not you are vaccinated.” According to the New York Times, although Goldman employees need to report their status,“they do not need to show proof of vaccination, but will be asked to record the date they received their shots and the maker of the vaccine.”
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The excerpt from the memo sounds a little cold and authoritarian. However, companies are tasked with the unenviable chore of navigating this new environment. The Covid-19 vaccines were approved by the FDA through an Emergency Use Authorization. Unlike past vaccinations, this new shot is given with an advisory that it’s completely voluntary. Despite this caveat, it seems that companies can legally require vaccines as a condition of employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that asking employees for their vaccination status is legal, but the data needs to be kept confidential.
There are certain exemptions. For instance, companies need to accommodate religious beliefs or medical conditions. One prominent executive recently weighed in on the topic. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a webcast that the company couldn’t yet require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office.
The vaccination debate has become politicized. Some people claim that the vaccinations are a private matter and it shouldn’t have to be disclosed. Others feel uncomfortable and put upon to be in close proximity with a person who could potentially spread the virus.
The large cruise line, Royal Caribbean, announced that vaccinations are optional for passengers. The cruise ships will depart from Florida, a state that has recently passed a law prohibiting companies from requiring proof of vaccination. It will penalize companies with $5,000 fines each time they ask a customer to provide proof that they’ve been vaccinated. Texas has also passed a bill to this effect.
Delta Airlines is requiring new hires to get the Covid-19 vaccine. In an interview with CNN, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said, “Any person joining Delta in the future, we will mandate to get vaccinated before they can sign up with the company.” The chief executive said that he would “strongly encourage” Delta’s current 75,000 employees to get the vaccine and help them “understand the risk to not get vaccinated.” He warned that existing employees who do not get the vaccine may face restrictions, like being prohibited from working international flights.
Following in Delta’s footsteps, “United Airlines’ new policy on vaccines isn’t a requirement for current workers, but it feels close. The company will be rewarding flight attendants who get shots with extra vacation days. Those who don’t won’t be allowed to travel to countries that require vaccines and if they’re assigned to an international flight, can be removed from the schedule without compensation. That’s in addition to a vaccination requirement for new hires.”
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the largest human resources membership group, “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has weighed in with guidance that answers some workplace vaccination questions. Employers may encourage or possibly require Covid-19 vaccinations, but policies must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other workplace laws, according to the EEOC.”
As companies are planning to soon have people back in the office, executives have to quickly figure out how to navigate these difficult decisions.