US companies tighten the screw on Omicron

Confronted with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, large American companies are being forced to strengthen their anti-Covid arsenal and push back the schedule for returning to the office.

All sectors are concerned, but the measures vary in intensity.

Among the most intransigent groups, Google has notified its employees in early December that their wages would no longer be paid and that they could even be made redundant if they did not declare their vaccination status beyond a certain date, according to an internal document consulted by CNBC .

“We are convinced that our vaccination requirements are one of the most important means to preserve the safety of our staff and to continue to operate our services”, assured to AFP a spokesperson for Google.

“We are committed to doing everything in our power to help our employees who can get vaccinated.”

The search engine giant has also postponed indefinitely the return to the office of its engineers and developers, initially scheduled for January.

For its part, Meta (the parent company of Facebook) offers its employees the possibility of choosing the workplace best suited to their needs.

Amazon, which had suggested a return of its face-to-face office workers at least 3 days a week at the start 2022, should make some news announcements in January, a spokesperson for the company told AFP. Warehouse employees and drivers are not affected by these arrangements.

Apple has reinstated the compulsory wearing of the mask in all of its stores in the United States after having made it optional in November in a hundred points of sale.

The apple brand also temporarily closed stores in Florida and Maryland this week as well as in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Wall Street on the defensive

Wall Street must also adapt to the rise in the number of cases of contamination in New York and other financial centers in the country.

Since Tuesday JPMorgan has been limiting access to nine of its buildings located in Manhattan to vaccinated people, who are not required to wear a mask inside.

“We are taking this measure because the vaccination rates are very high among our employees,” said the bank in an internal note consulted by AFP.

“With rates significantly higher than 57%, it seems unfair to us to force our vaccinated employees to wear masks all day at their desks. ”

Unvaccinated employees must work from home.

Despite the desire for a return to normalcy, JPMorgan had to backtrack on a conference on health that the bank organizes in January in California and which was initially to be held face-to-face.

Under the pressure of several participants worried about the risks of infection and “by excess of caution “, the bank made the event go virtual.

Other big names in American finance, such as Citigroup or Morgan Stanley, encourage their employees to work from home in as much as possible over the next few weeks.

In supermarkets, groups are also taking the lead in the face of the risk of a flood of customers wishing to fill their shelves before they sell out. new restrictions.

The Kroger supermarket chain will, for example, suspend the payment of special Covid sick leave to unvaccinated employees, according to information from several American media.

Employees who have not been immunized will also have to pay a bonus of 40 from January to stay on company health insurance.

Generalized teleworking?

Joe Biden wants to impose vaccination obligation for companies with more than 95 but its project is the subject of a legal battle: a federal court reinstated Friday the measure of the president, which had been suspended by another body.

According to a study carried out at the end of November by the insurance broker Willis Towers Watson, 57% of U.S. employers already require their employees to be vaccinated or are considering making it mandatory.

“Employers can encourage vaccination and booster doses by adapting the schedule and rest days, encouraging frequent screening tests, requiring the wearing of a mask in the workplace to guarantee health and safety “, notes Jeff Levin-Scherz of Willis Towers Watson.

One of the main effects of Omicron could also be to perpetuate the use of teleworking in months.

As of December 8, the office occupancy rate of major American cities was barely reaching 40%, according to a weekly barometer carried out by security systems specialist Kastle using data from urban areas of the country.

It was around 95% in March 2020, before the first containment measures.