The Perfect Enemy | Companies are dropping vaccine mandates
September 29, 2022
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Some companies are rolling back mandates for employee COVID vaccination — but few are making official public statements about it.

Why it matters: These moves signal that we’ve shifted into a new chapter of the pandemic — and that employers are desperate to get people back to the office.

  • Employers are trying to reduce any barriers to entry for new hires, says Erin Grau, co-founder of Charter, a media and services company focused on the future of work, who’s hearing from executives who are dropping their mandates.
  • The requirements are also expensive and time-consuming for employers — another reason to stop, she adds.

What’s happening: “[Companies] decided that the rationale for [mandates] had become weak enough that they don’t want to continue,” Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at Willis Towers Watson, tells Axios.

  • Yes, but: There’s a risk that dropping these requirements would make some workers less willing to mingle with their colleagues — for fear of becoming sick.

Companies mostly don’t want to talk about this, seeing little upside given the controversial history of mandates. But a few large employers’ plans are public:

  • Starting this week, Goldman Sachs lifted vaccination requirements everywhere but New York City, where it still has a mandate for workplaces.
  • “With many tools including vaccination, improved treatments and testing now available, there is significantly less risk of severe illness,” Goldman told employees in a memo announcing the change, obtained by Axios.
  • In June, Cisco stopped requiring vaccination for “office entry, travel, event attendance, or visiting customers, partners, and other third parties,” per its website.
  • JPMorgan Chase said it would start hiring unvaccinated individuals again back in March.

Zoom out: The White House yesterday called on businesses to take certain actions to protect employees and customers from COVID-19 this fall. Mandates weren’t on the list.

  • Instead, the administration says employers should be “helping their employees access updated COVID-19 vaccines.” The White House also recommends employers share information on treatment options and improve indoor air quality, as well as provide paid time off for anyone getting a shot.
  • There are other things employers can do, as well, like telling people not to come in if they’re sick, and, “if possible, offer remote work for those with symptoms,” says Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University.

Between the lines: Things have changed a lot since these mandates were first put in place last year — a time when vaccination was seen as very effective against spreading disease. Now with the variants, that’s less true, Wen says.

  • “At this point in the pandemic, the case for vaccine mandates is much weaker than it was in 2021,” she adds.

But not all companies are giving up on mandates. Many hospitals and other healthcare providers do require vaccination.

  • Google, Edelman and Facebook told Axios Seattle reporter Melissa Santos that employees who enter the office must be vaccinated.

Seven other employers she contacted were less forthcoming.

  • Microsoft, which has set a standard that employees spend 50% of their time in the office, declined to comment.
  • Salesforce, which runs Seattle-based Tableau, would only say they follow all state and local health requirements. (Most private employers aren’t required to impose vaccine mandates.)

The bottom line: We’re in a new era — for now. Everyone’s watching to see what happens with cases in the fall.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to remove a reference to Boeing requiring employees to be vaccinated. Boeing dropped its vaccine requirement in 2021.