Office Reopenings and Return-to-work Plans: How Things Have Been so Far

During the summer of 2021, just when it looked like the world had turned the corner on the pandemic, new variants led to another surge of hospitalization. A growing number of private companies are mandating that employees get vaccinated, and this is a very contentious topic in itself. A high percentage of new cases have emerged among the unvaccinated. Here’s a look at how some of America’s largest companies are handling their office reopenings.

Reconsidering the Reopening Stage

In the third quarter of 2021, the number of companies planning to reopen declined, according to Gartner. The researcher also reported that most companies are encouraging vaccination without mandating it. Some of the nation’s largest tech companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, have issued vaccine mandates for employees returning to work. Various issues are causing small businesses to rethink how they are handling the reopening process. Remote work has remained popular as a social distancing strategy.

Rising COVID-19 variant cases across all 50 states have caused businesses to reconsider how they will deal with multiple political, social, and health issues. In some places, workers are protesting the vaccine mandates aggressively. By July, nearly a third of businesses said they still had no reopening plans as per the Gartner study.

Many companies remain on the fence as to whether they should issue vaccine mandates. Workplace mandates requiring masks and social distancing have also become a key topic. A survey by CNBC found that nearly 40% of a limited group of HR executives at firms with over 10,000 employees had not altered their reopening plans.

The debate over Masks and Vaccine Mandates

The debate on whether people in any kind of public setting should wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status has heated up over the summer. In July, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reversed an earlier guideline by advising people who have been fully vaccinated to continue wearing a mask in public settings. Reports began to surface in the summer that the protective properties of the vaccines wane over time and that the vaccine may not be as effective against the new variants.

In early August, investment giant Vanguard announced it would pay employees $1,000 to get the vaccine. Pfizer, which is one of the few COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, said it was mandating vaccines or weekly testing for its employees as well as its vendors.

Earlier in the year, Gartner found that only 2% of the firms had issued vaccine mandates as the vaccine rollout was just starting. By July this number rose to 8%. The union for the Orange County Social Services Agency is calling for stricter pandemic protocols and more remote work options. On the other hand, the state of California is urging private employers to go along with vaccine mandates or weekly testing.

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