In a sign of growing momentum for vaccine mandates, Microsoft has reversed course and will now require employees to be fully vaccinated to enter the company’s U.S. offices and other worksites, starting next month.
The Redmond-based tech giant told employees Tuesday it will “require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors, and any guests entering Microsoft buildings in the U.S.”
The company also said it will have a process to accommodate employees “who have a medical condition or other protected reason, such as religion, which prevent them from getting vaccinated.”
Caregivers of people who are immunosuppressed or parents of children who are too young to receive a vaccine can continue to work from home until January, and take advantage of Microsoft’s flexible work policies, the company added.
“We continue to review the situation on a local basis in each region/country/state where we work and will adjust dates and policies as needed,” it said.
Microsoft also confirmed it was delaying its return to the office by nearly a month, to Oct. 4.
The company’s new vaccine mandate won’t be imposed outside of the U.S. “due to varying legal and regulatory requirements, as well as differences in vaccine distribution and availability,” according to the internal memo.
Last week, Microsoft told employees that vaccinations were recommended but would not required for on-site work, according to media accounts and social media posts showing an earlier employee memo.
Microsoft’s new vaccine policy follows similar moves last week by other employers, including tech rivals Google and Facebook, along with Disney and Walmart. This week, Tyson and healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, which operates locally via the old Group Health network, joined the list.
Redfin, the Seattle-based online brokerage with about 1,300 employees in Washington, told staff Tuesday it will delay its office re-opening indefinitely and will require employees to be vaccinated before they go in to the office.
“At least until infection rates from this new highly contagious delta variant subside, we also have to limit office access,” Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman wrote in an email to employees. “Any employee can come into the office to pick up yard signs or other equipment, but otherwise we’re asking employees who haven’t been fully vaccinated to work from home.”
The moves by Microsoft, Redfin and others are seen as part of a broader shift by businesses to sidestep government inaction on lagging vaccination rates that public health experts blame for surging COVID cases.
“This is a pandemic, and the only way we’re going to get out of it is if everybody’s vaccinated and if that means that you can’t work unless you prove that you’re vaccinated, well, I think … that makes sense,” said Marilyn Roberts, a microbiologist with the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington. Roberts said she was speaking personally and not on behalf of the university.
Vaccine mandates by large employers such as Microsoft also may help encourage other employers, especially smaller ones, to overcome their own reluctance to mandate vaccines, which some employees object to.
“The more that the Microsofts … of this country take those positions, that’s going to give cover to much smaller companies who may be reticent to do that right now,” said Jason Rittereiser, an attorney and expert in coronavirus-related workplace regulations at HKM Employment Attorneys in Seattle.
Although federal and state law allows employers to require employees to be vaccinated as long as they allow exemptions for health or religious reasons, federal and state authorities have largely left the decision to employers, Rittereiser said.
But with rising coronavirus cases and growing fear around the highly infectious delta variant, some employers have been stepping in with their own mandates — despite the potential for employee pushback.
Indeed, news of Microsoft’s vaccine mandate provoked some complaints on social media by people who described themselves as Microsoft employees.
“It’s all fun and games until they come for your personal sovereignty over your own body,” tweeted someone named Vanessa, who described herself as Microsoft employee. She later posted a survey asking followers, “would you stand on principle even if it meant the possibility of losing your job or angering the Internet mob?”
But other Microsoft employees said they were encouraged by the new policy. “So far, I am fairly proud of the [company’s] response and offered options,” said one Microsoft employee who does not work at a U.S. site.
“I’m all for it,” said a former employee. “With all the Delta Variant breakthrough cases in the news I wouldn’t feel safe if I didn’t think my colleagues were vaccinated.”
The UW’s Roberts said employer efforts were all the more important given the need not only to reach unvaccinated people but also potentially to give a third shot to boost immunity against extra-contagious variants such as delta, which can infect vaccinated people but rarely results in serious illness or hospitalization in those who have been fully vaccinated.
“If we don’t clamp this down, we’re going to get a variant that is going to evade the vaccine — and we’re going to be back at square one,” Roberts said.
Seattle Times business reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this story.