Nike has notified some employees that it plans to fire them on Saturday because they haven’t met the company’s deadline to verify their vaccination against COVID-19 and haven’t received an exemption for religious or medical reasons.
Columbia Sportswear says it plans to take similar measures and will begin firing unvaccinated employees Feb. 1.
Legal challenges, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision Thursday halting a COVID-19 vaccine rule for targeting large businesses, have derailed most broad government vaccine mandates. Legal scholars, though, generally agree that private employers are free to adopt vaccine mandates regardless of how the courts rule. And that’s what Nike and Columbia Sportswear are doing, moving to dismiss employees who haven’t demonstrated they are in compliance.
“You failed to complete the verification process and our records show that you do not have an approved (exemption),” reads an email Nike sent to one employee last week. “As a result, you are not in compliance with the Policy and your employment is scheduled to be terminated on Saturday, January 15, 2022.”
Employees say a group of 120 Nike employees objecting to the vaccine mandate have been communicating online, but it’s not clear how many of them are actually unvaccinated or how many face firing. Some report that Nike has been granting at least a few last-minute exemptions.
Nike is Oregon’s largest company and one of the state’s largest employers, with about 14,000 workers assigned to its headquarters near Beaverton. The vast majority of those employees have been working remotely since COVID-19 hit, but Nike has indicated that it hopes to move most of them back to the office as the pandemic eases.
Richelle Luther, Columbia Sportswear’s chief human resources officer, said the Portland company will begin firing unvaccinated employees next month. She declined to disclose how many will lose their jobs but indicated it’s a relatively small number.
Nike wants people back at the office, and appears to view vaccines as a pathway to accomplishing that. In a Dec. 14 memo, Monique Matheson, the company’s chief human resources officer, said Nike hoped to have employees return to the office on a part-time basis beginning this month.
The omicron variant delayed those plans indefinitely, according to employees, but Matheson’s memo makes it clear that Nike’s priority is to have people back at the office. The company has finished a huge expansion of its headquarters campus, with a price tag approaching $1 billion.
“We believe we are better together,” she wrote, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive. She notes that retail and warehouse employees have worked in person through most of the pandemic.
And she says that a survey of employees found 89% of employees understand the company’s vaccination policy and 78% are “proud of our stance on vaccines.”
“By the time we’re all back together in person, we expect over 99% of our U.S. corporate employees to be fully vaccinated: a really great team effort!” Matheson wrote.