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Why Apple, Google And Others Are Changing Strategies To Combat Covid Crisis


Apple, Google and others are following a basic best practice for responding to a crisis situation that all business leaders should keep in mind: Don’t hesitate to change your strategies and tactics when a crisis worsens or takes unexpected turns, which is certainly the case with the rollercoaster ride that is the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday, Apple said anyone who enters their U.S. stores will have to wear a mask again and Facebook announced that all of their U.S. employees must be vaccinated before they can return to company’s offices. The Biden administration is expected to announce today a mandatory vaccination policy for federal workers.

Google’s New Strategy

On Wednesday, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, told employees they are now required to get their Covid vaccinations and that previously announced plans to return to the office were postponed until mid-October.

As the New York Times recently reported, “When companies began announcing tentative return-to-office plans this spring, there was a sense of optimism behind the messages. Covid cases were dwindling in the United States as the vaccine rollout picked up pace. Employers largely hoped their workers would get shots on their own, motivated by raffle tickets, paid time off and other perks, if not by the consensus of the medical community.

Delta Variant’s Impact

“In recent days, that tone has suddenly shifted. The Delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus, is sweeping through the country. Fewer than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, exacerbating the situation.”

On July 20, the news organization reported that, “Apple pushed back its return-to-office plans by at least a month in response to the recent surge in coronavirus cases, which has been fueled by the spread of the Delta variant.

“The company told employees on Monday that they are now expected to return to the office as early as Oct. 1 instead of early September. The company said that the date could shift further depending on the spread of the virus, and that it would give employees at least a month’s notice before they are expected to return, according to an email Apple sent to employees, which was viewed by The New York Times.

“’As the situation continues to evolve, we’re committed to the same measured approach that we have taken all along,’ the email said.”

Advice For Business Leaders

A Necessary Step

Professor Sharona Hoffman is a health law expert at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law and School of Medicine. “I think Google has made a sound decision, as long as they provide exceptions for medical and religious reasons.

“Given the spike in Covid cases, it would be very reasonable for other companies to make the same [vaccination and office return] decision. We have seen that too many people refuse to take the vaccine if they are not required to do so. Establishing vaccine mandates appears to be a necessary step to combating this deadly pandemic,” she observed.

Balance The Benefits

David C. Miller, a labor and employment attorney with Bryant Miller Olive, said, “My advice to leaders is to balance the benefits of vaccinations— which are obvious—against the downsides, the biggest of which is employee pushback.

“My clients tell me that if they mandate vaccinations, there will be some number of employees who will quit rather than submit. If your company has a high public profile or it’s a consumer-driven business, you also have to guess at how much negative publicity you’ll get and how much it may hurt the brand and sales. I think there will certainly be a number of businesses that follow Google’s example. How many—and especially how many outside the tech industry—is an open question,” he noted.

Hurdles

Miller advised that, “If you’re a public sector employer or if your employees are represented by a union, there are whole additional suites of hurdles you have to leap before you can require vaccinations. Ultimately, there are going to be major First Amendment suits against governmental vaccination requirements, whether aimed at employees or the general public. We’ve begun to see them already.”

Minimize Disruptions

He observed that, “… Google delayed its return to the office date in tandem with the vaccination requirement. The seems to have been done to allow employees time to get vaccinated, but also to give more time to adjust their work-from-home lives back to the brick-and-mortar model. Any employer choosing to have a mandate would do well to follow suit to try to minimize employee disruptions and, thus, pushback. Education, tangible incentives, and ‘soft pressure’ have all been used to ease employees toward vaccination.”



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