Several hundred US employees of tech giant Google have signed a manifesto opposing the company’s vaccine mandate, according to reports published this week.
Staffers have broken rank after Google ordered all its workers to update their vaccine status on its internal systems, with the Biden administration’s January 4th vaccine/weekly Covid-19 test mandate for companies with over 100 employees looming.
In the US, thousands of businesses forced out of the office were saved by reliable remote access and web conferencing software. But even the most cutting-edge tech companies like Google are keen to get back into the office – which means the internal unrest will be of great concern to the company.
Why are Google’s Employees up in Arms?
Google has ordered 150,000 employees to upload their vaccine status by Dec. 3, CNBC reports. This request has to be met irrespective of whether the employees are going to be working in Google’s offices.
Google staffers working on government contracts have to be fully vaccinated, even if they’re working from home. For these employees, testing regularly for Covid-19 is “not a valid alternative”, according to Chris Rackow, Google’s Vice-President of Global Security.
There was a November 12. deadline for staff to request exemptions before, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis. But employees will have known about the introduction of such rules for many months now, with Google CEO Sundai Pichai writing in a blog post in July:
“First, anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated. We’re rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months. The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area”. Sundai Pichai, Google CEO.
However, at least 600 Google employees have signed a “manifesto” urging the tech company’s executives to create a more “inclusive” mandate. The letter argues that Google’s policy of “barring unvaccinated Googlers from the office publicly and possibly embarrassingly exposes a private choice as it would be difficult for the Googler not to reveal why they cannot return”.
The letter went further questioning whether it was ethically permissible for Google to even compile data about employees health in the way it wants to:
“I do not believe Google should be privy to the health and medical history of Googlers and the vaccination status is no exception”. – Google Employee Manifesto.
The workers also argued that Google’s stature means the regulations and practices it enforces often send ripples through US business circles. The author implies the tech giant should think about its influence over corporate America and international markets before instituting any rules of this nature, arguing it will push other companies to “consider [unequal treatment of Googlers based on personal beliefs and decisions] as acceptable tradeoffs”.
A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that despite the employee unrest, they “firmly stand behind our vaccination policy”. The Google representative went on to say that “as we've stated to all our employees and the author of this document, our vaccination requirements are one of the most important ways we can keep our workforce safe and keep our services running”.
The Legal Tussle Engulfing Biden's Vaccine Mandate
On November 4th, the White House announced plans to enforce a vaccine and testing mandate on companies with over 100 employees. This would require employees to be either fully vaccinated or test for Covid-19 on a weekly basis:
“The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is announcing the details of a requirement for employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests for COVID-19 on at least a weekly basis. The OSHA rule will also require that these employers provide paid-time for employees to get vaccinated, and ensure all unvaccinated workers wear a face mask in the workplace”. – White House Briefing Room.
Under the regulations, unvaccinated employees will have to wear a mask during work hours spent indoors from December 5. According to the White House, the federal ruling will affect around 84 million employees across the United States, with other estimates putting the figure even higher. It presents a massive logistical challenge for large companies with staff numbers in the tens of thousands.
Court judges appointed by previous presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan quickly moved to block the mandate.
The New Orleans-based Fifth US circuit court of appeals – a staunchly conservative panel – blocked the policy two days after it was announced. The emergency Stay – the US legal term for blocking a legal proceeding – came after at least 27 states filed lawsuits against the “mandate”.
Biden has asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to dissolve the emergency stay. Legal experts have suggested that a loss in the Sixth Circuit for either side will see the case brought to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.
What Does This Mean for My Business?
Quite a lot – if you employ over 100 workers, that is. Industry leaders will be following the passage (or stagnation) of the bill as it continues through the US court system, with the next few weeks being key to whether the policy is eventually given the green light to be enforced. The U.S Chamber of Commerce has advised US Businesses to continue as if the policy will be enforced until it is “definitively shut down”, so companies aren't caught out in January.
Google is deploying its own vaccine mandate policy on top of the Biden Administration's rules, but if the government policy does officially become law, then at a minimum your employees will need to be tested for Covid-19 weekly or provide proof they've been vaccinated.
Other companies are staying remote for good, and taking advantage of the accelerated development and delivery of high-quality web conferencing software, to name just one sector of the tech product market that has benefitted from the mass move to home working.
Microsoft, Apple, and a string of other technology companies have postponed their “back-to-office” plans over the past few months, and with vaccine mandate compliance clearly being a serious bone of contention for so many, arguably there's little incentive to rush back.